The presiding judge dismissed all charges in Payson Mayor Ken Murphy's domestic violence trial Friday.
After the prosecution rested its case, Murphy's attorney, Harlan Green, immediately moved for dismissal of all charges without calling a single witness. In his summation, Green said the problem with the state's case was that the attorneys prosecuting it "went with the wrong set of facts."
Green was referring to the written statement given by Devon Leckliter, the oldest daughter of Murphy's fiance, Julie Foster. In that statement, given Nov. 10, Leckliter claimed Murphy yelled "at the top of his lungs," was "heavily intoxicated," threw shoes, and was generally "in a rage" during the early morning hours of that day.
When she testified at the trial, Leckliter claimed she exaggerated Murphy's actions in the statement because she was mad at both Murphy and Foster. During the trial, Green repeatedly emphasized that Leckliter wasn't even home during much of the night when the events she described supposedly transpired, and that establishing a reliable timeline of events from the testimony of the other witnesses was impossible.
"Devon Leckliter is not credible," Green told the court. "Nobody else heard what Devon heard. The stories presented by the witnesses do not corroborate. The timeline is very screwed up."
Green also maintained that Foster was at no time threatened by Murphy's behavior, and that, in fact, she only made the 911 call to request police standby while she removed her belongings from Murphy's house. A tape of Foster's 911 call was played several times in the courtroom.
"No one took (the situation) as threatening except the Payson Police Department," Green told the court.
Prosecuting attorney Bryan Chambers argued that the evidence supported a conviction and criticized the witnesses for not being able to remember specific details of the events of Nov. 9 and 10.
"There seems to be a type of amnesia among the witnesses with close ties to the defendant," Chambers told the court. "Now they can't remember their statements."
In announcing his decision to dismiss the charges, Judge pro tem John Perlman congratulated Green, Chambers and county attorney Robert Standage for their presentations, but said the state had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
"The witnesses were appalling because they so deeply lacked credibility," the judge said. "They destroyed the state's case no matter how well it was presented."
While agreeing with Green that the state had failed to prove that Foster or anyone else was threatened with physical injury by Murphy, Perlman also noted that the general demeanor of the mayor's household made it difficult for any of the alleged victims to be in a "reposeful state of mind," as required by law.
"This was an argumentative household," the judge said. "This was a drinking household. This was a stressful household. The evidence shows this was a household that was anything but peaceful and tranquil."
After the trial, Green elaborated.
"As the case unfolded, the case folded up," he told the Roundup. "The difficulty the state has is their witnesses weren't reliable and the investigation got too focused on what seemed to be a simple issue of arguing for no reason. Quite frankly, the judge found that the family arguments were continual and involved everybody. So there was no reason to protect somebody's peace when they were part of the problem."
A tearful Murphy declined to declare victory. "I don't feel happy about it all," the mayor said. "I feel that it's dragging our personal lives into the public and nobody wins with that. At the time it happened, I was very embarrassed and I'm still embarrassed about the whole situation. I'm sorry."
The trial lasted two days in Payson Justice Court. For the most part, witnesses testified the first day, with police officers who responded to Foster's 911 call testifying Friday.
Sgt. Donny Garvin, who was the first police officer to arrive at Murphy's home, testified that the mayor was agitated and uncooperative. After "clearing the house" with officers Allen Dyer and Henry Thomason, Garvin took a statement from Foster at Rim Country Lanes where she had taken several children to bowl.
During cross-examination by Green, Garvin admitted he questioned the vagueness of Foster's statement and asked her to add more details. He said he was not trying to pressure Foster and that it was not an unusual practice to ask witnesses to be as detailed in their written statements as they are in their verbal accounts.
Foster had testified the day before that she felt pressured by the police to elaborate on her original statement.
Garvin testified that he eventually went back to Murphy's house so Foster could remove some belongings. By the time the mayor returned home on his ATV, the decision had been made to arrest him, and Garvin performed that task, taking Murphy to the Gila County Sheriff's Office for booking on charges of disorderly conduct/domestic violence and intimidating/domestic violence.
During his testimony, Dyer was asked about his encounter with Murphy in the back yard of the mayor's home just before his arrest.
"Murphy said, ‘I could've shot you, Dyer, but you've already been shot,'" the officer told the court. Dyer, who was seriously wounded in an incident at Wal-Mart Oct. 30, 1999, said the remark didn't bother him all that much.
"I took it as just a stupid statement," Dyer said. "When he was being placed in Garvin's vehicle (following his arrest), he said he was just kidding."
Thomason, the officer in charge of the case, was the last to testify. He admitted that Police Chief Gordon Gartner was notified at home about the 911 call and came to the police station to review the incident.
"I talked to Chief Gartner," Thomason said. "We discussed whether to arrest the mayor, but he didn't tell me what to do."
During cross examination by Green, Thomason said it isn't unusual for the police chief to review reports because of the "political nature of the case."
Green presented cell phone and police radio records that cast doubt on Thomason's claim that he had personally contacted Garvin at Murphy's house to inform him to arrest the mayor. The records indicated that Thomason did not contact Garvin either by cell phone or radio.
Thomason told the court he couldn't remember the specific means he used to instruct Garvin to make the arrest.
Murphy still faces charges related to an altercation at the Ox Bow Saloon during August Doin's last year and possible charges related to allegedly intimidating phone calls made to fellow councilors Barbara Brewer and Judy Buettner in June.