The Herald wasn’t alone

The Boston Herald’s reporting on Superior Court Judge Ernest Murphy may have been egregious, but it was hardly the only news outlet that ran stories on Murphy’s perceived leniency.

Dave Wedge and Jules Crittenden’s first Herald story on Murphy, “Murphy’s Law,” appeared on Feb. 13, 2002. (Crittenden’s contribution was not an issue in Murphy’s libel suit.)

Here are a few examples of what others were saying before, during and after the Herald weighed in.

From the Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2002:

A Superior Court judge has come under fire from prosecutors after he released three accused rapists without bail, and gave probation to a man who admitted raping a 14-year-old girl.

Judge Ernest B. Murphy, who began his rotation in New Bedford this week, placed Dean McSweeney on eight years’ probation Tuesday, after McSweeney admitted to twice raping his friend’s 14-year-old sister and holding up a Mansfield motel. Prosecutors had recommended a 7- to 10-year sentence.

“Rapes, robberies, bails, it doesn’t matter,” Bristol District Attorney Paul F. Walsh told the The Standard Times of New Bedford. “He doesn’t care. He’s gutless.”

Murphy also released without bail a Fall River man charged with raping a young girl, and overturned bail rulings allowing two other accused rapists, including one man accused of raping a 13-year-old girl at gunpoint, on personal recognizance.

From the Boston Globe, Feb. 11, 2002:

Prosecutors in New Bedford are fuming over the rulings of a judge who recently released without bail three alleged rapists, one of whom had eluded police for more than a year. Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy also gave a probation sentence to a man who pleaded guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl, said Bristol County Assistant District Attorney Gerald FitzGerald….

“The word is out,” FitzGerald said. “When Judge Murphy’s on the bench, the gates are open. The drawbridge is down.”

In fact, FitzGerald said, “If he knew that Ernest Murphy was sitting on the bench, it would be enough to bring Whitey [Bulger] back home.”

From The Standard-Times, Feb. 12, 2002:

NEW BEDFORD — A man accused of raping a 15-year-old New Bedford girl was released without bail yesterday, the fourth such ruling by Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy in seven days.

A District Court judge had ordered Lance Bovill, 28, of Mattapan held on $75,000 bail after allegedly raping a girl he met on a local telephone party line.

Judge Murphy, who was blasted by prosecutor Walter J. Shea last week for being “the worst person in a black robe I have ever seen,” overturned that bail, saying he believed the man would return for trial.

“Whether or not she was really raped, or whether she made it all up is not for me to decide,” the judge said yesterday. “I’m ruling on the bail statute, and I’m familiar with the bail statute.”

From the Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2002:

He [Murphy] created a furor among prosecutors and victim’s rights advocates earlier this week when he released on bail a teen-ager accused of planning a Columbine-style rampage at New Bedford High School.

“Clearly, there’s a pattern here,” [Bristol County District Attorney Paul] Walsh said. “Everywhere I go, people are shaking their heads at these decisions.

“The compassion always seems to come down on the side of the defendant,” he said. “We’re not here just to hope that defendants cure their ways … there are some people getting hurt out there and punishment has to be factored in.”

Mansfield Police Chief Arthur O’Neill has called for Murphy’s resignation. Several relatives of victims whose cases were heard by Murphy said they plan to file complaints against him with acting Gov. Jane Swift and the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigates allegations of misconduct against state judges.

From the Associated Press, Feb. 18, 2002:

A 14-year-old rape victim said on Monday that she “will never be free” after a judge sentenced her attacker to eight years probation and allowed him walk out of the courtroom.

The sentences for Dean McSweeney and other accused rapists have become the center of a controversy over New Bedford Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy, whose rulings have sparked outrage from prosecutors.

“Other victims are going through the same thing I am, because Judge Murphy chose to free their attackers, too,” the girl said at her home not far from where McSweeney lives. “Judge Murphy made me feel like I was guilty, and that Dean was the victim. Dean walked out of the courtroom a free man. I will never be free.”

From The Standard-Times, Feb. 19, 2002:

MANSFIELD — A 14-year-old rape victim said yesterday that she “will never be free” after a judge sentenced her attacker to eight years probation and allowed him walk out of the courtroom.

The sentences for Dean McSweeney and other accused rapists have become the center of a controversy over New Bedford Superior Court Judge Ernest B. Murphy, whose rulings have sparked outrage from prosecutors.

“Other victims are going through the same thing I am, because Judge Murphy chose to free their attackers, too,” the girl said at her home not far from where McSweeney lives.

“Judge Murphy made me feel like I was guilty, and that Dean was the victim. Dean walked out of the courtroom a free man. I will never be free.”

From the Boston Globe, Feb. 19, 2002:

A 14-year-old rape victim yesterday said a controversial judge’s decision to spare her attacker prison time and release him to his home within a mile of her Mansfield house has left her fearing for her safety….

“I will have to look over my shoulder for the rest of my life,” she read from a prepared statement. “I looked to Judge Murphy to help and support me to get over this by putting Dean McSweeney behind bars where he belonged. Instead, he’s right down the street…. All because Judge Murphy felt more sympathy for Dean than he did for me.”

The next excerpt — from a Globe editorial published on Feb. 22, 2002 — is particularly interesting. Note that the writer concludes that Murphy’s alleged “get over it” quote is demeaning, without regard for whether Murphy said “She’s got to get over it” or “Tell her to get over it.” Also, the writer attributes the quote to “prosecutors.” Did someone at the Globe get that quote from Walsh’s office? Or did the Globe simply pick this up from the Herald? Anyway, here it is:

In recent weeks Murphy released four accused rapists without bail after more-experienced district court judges had set significant bail. His decision to give a probationary sentence to a man who admitted to raping a 14-year-old Mansfield girl has created a barrage of criticism related both to Murphy’s sentencing judgment and judicial temperament. According to prosecutors, Murphy stated that the victim should “get over it” — as if rape were somehow one of the bumps on the road of life.

Now, I’m not saying that these excerpts are no different from what the Herald reported. To my knowledge, no one has questioned the accuracy of any of these stories. (On the other hand, if Murphy never said the teenage victim should “get over it” in a demeaning way, then the Globe editorial is wrong on precisely the point on which the Herald lost.) The Herald’s reporting, by contrast, was plagued with errors.

But I can’t help but think that Murphy, under intense pressure, lashed out at the Herald not because he had been wounded so much more grievously than he had by the other news outlets, but because it set off an enormous public outcry.

2 thoughts on “The Herald wasn’t alone

  1. Anonymous

    This is MA. Reality is that there’s a reason powerful people become judges after political contributions. MOST of them have judicial temperment. Some, however, are insecure or egomaniacs. Unless the Comm. on Judicial Conduct takes a stand, an opaque system will become more so. If you think people are cynical about MA pols now, this is just the beginning. I don’t even dare to post under my usual name. How sad is that?

  2. Anonymous

    Dan, I can’t commend you enough for pulling together these many examples of severe, on-the-record criticism of Ernest Murphy’s judicial work that appeared before the Herald’s stories. They BELIE what J. Greaney has written so utterly that one can only conclude Greaney was biased in favor of defending “one of his own” — a fellow judge. Keep in mind that our judiciary in this state IS NOT SUBJECT to public records requests. We cannot foia their expenses, time sheets, internal disciplinary actions. etc. etc. etc. Say what you want about the “egregious” reporting here. The state judiciary, with many exceptions for honorable people, is largely an arrogant, insulated, unaccoutable institution and that has shown its true colors through Greaney’s patent dishonesty.

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