Murphy v. State of Florida

Decision Date01 November 1973
Docket NumberNo. 73-151-Civ.-CA.,73-151-Civ.-CA.
Citation363 F. Supp. 1224
PartiesJack Roland MURPHY, Petitioner, v. The STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida

Jack R. Nageley, Harvey S. Swickle, Swickle, Katz & Brotman, Miami Beach, Fla., for petitioner.

Robert L. Shevin, Atty. Gen., of Fla., and William L. Rogers, Asst. Atty. Gen., Miami, Fla., for respondent.


ATKINS, District Judge.

Petitioner, Jack Roland Murphy, is before the Court upon filing of his second Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.1 In the instant petition, Murphy contends that his confinement, which stems from a 1970 conviction in Dade County Criminal Court, is unlawful in that (1) the trial court erred by denying his motion for a change of venue in light of allegedly prejudicial pre-trial publicity; (2) the trial court failed to dismiss for cause those jurors who knew that Petitioner was a convicted felon; (3) the trial court committed reversible error in denying Petitioner's motion to bifurcate the trial on the issues of guilt and sanity.

To fully appreciate the issues raised by Petitioner, it is necessary to set forth much of his notorious background. Prior to his involvement in the crime which is the subject of this petition, Murphy had focused nationwide attention on himself for his role in the 1964 theft of the "Star of India" sapphire from the New York Museum of Natural History. As a result of that enterprise and because of certain physical characteristics, Murphy was popularly referred to as "Murph the Surf."

On January 28, 1968, Petitioner and three others were apprehended as they fled from the scene of a robbery of a wealthy Miami Beach resident, Olive Wofford. In May, 1968, prior to the trial on charges stemming from this incident, Petitioner was arrested and indicted for the double murder of Terry Rae Kent Frank and Annalie Mohn. The news media referred to these killings as the "Whiskey Creek Murders."

During the pre-trial proceedings in the Wofford robbery case, substantial attention was devoted by the media to a controversial ruling by the trial judge regarding Petitioner's competency to stand trial. Subsequently, the charges in the Wofford robbery case were nolle prossed so that the trial in Broward County on the Whiskey Creek Murders could commence. Then on August 14, 1968, Petitioner and three others were indicted by a United States Grand Jury for conspiring to transport stolen securities in interstate commerce. Those charges were closely related to the Whiskey Creek case. On March 1, 1969, Petitioner was found guilty of the murder of Terry Rae Kent Frank. On August 25, 1969, charges in the Wofford robbery case were refiled. In December of the same year, Murphy pled guilty to one count of the federal indictment.

In July of 1970, pre-trial proceedings in the Wofford case began. Petitioner filed a motion for change of venue based on allegedly prejudicial pre-trial publicity. The trial court deferred ruling on this motion until voir dire of the jury panel was completed. On July 27, 1970, the voir dire commenced. It was completed on August 10, 1970. Eventually, Murphy's plea of insanity was rejected and he was convicted and sentenced to serve a term of life imprisonment for the crime of breaking and entering a dwelling with intent to commit robbery being then and there armed and/or assaulting persons therein. He was also sentenced to serve a term of twenty years, consecutive to the first term imposed, for the crime of assault with the intent to commit robbery.

Initially, Murphy contends that the failure to change venue constituted a denial of due process. Petitioner asserts that the publicity surrounding the Wofford robbery and his notoriety attributable to the "Star of India" theft and "Whiskey Creek Murders" negatived any chance for a fair trial that he might otherwise have had in Dade County.

At the outset, it is important to recognize that a trial judge has broad discretion in determining the proper course of action when allegations of prejudicial pre-trial publicity are made. United States v. Collins, 5th Cir. 1972, 472 F.2d 1017. Yet that discretion is not unbridled. The Supreme Court has mandated that the federal courts exercise "the duty to make an independent evaluation of the circumstances" surrounding a claim of prejudicial pre-trial publicity. Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U. S. 333, 362, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 1522, 16 L. Ed.2d 600 (1966). Nevertheless, Petitioner must sustain the burden of showing that his conviction was a result of "essential unfairness . . . not as a matter of speculation but as a demonstrable reality." Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.S. 269, 281, 63 S.Ct. 236, 242, 87 L.Ed. 268 (1942).

The Court is sensitive to the delicate balance that must be struck as a result of the pervasiveness of modern communications and the need to insure a fair trial for the accused. The dilemma facing the courts today and the approach that must be taken pursuant thereto were set forth by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in United States v. Agueci, 310 F.2d 817, 832 (1962) cert. denied 372 U.S. 959, 83 S.Ct. 1016, 10 L.Ed.2d 12:

The typical jury, in this age of mass-communications, is not hermetically sealed from the events occurring all about them. Of course, an effort must be made by the trial judge to caution jurors against considering extra-judicial statements pertinent to the guilt or innocence of the individuals upon whom they sit in judgment. Where the cautionary instructions are adequate, as they were here, and where the news reporting was merely routine and hardly inflammatory, the trial judge does not abuse his discretion by refusing to declare a mistrial: "Trial by newspaper may be unfortunate, but it is not new and, unless the court accepts the standard judicial hypothesis that cautioning instructions are effective, criminal trials in the large metropolitan centers may well prove impossible." (citations omitted)

Built into our system are numerous procedures by which the effects of prejudicial pre-trial publicity may be uncovered and eliminated. Chief among these are the granting of a continuance or change of venue and the conducting of an extensive voir dire of prospective jurors.

The trial judge properly deferred ruling on the motion for a change of venue in the case sub judice until he had an opportunity to see the results of the voir dire of the jury panel, which was conducted by counsel. See Hoffa v. Gray, 323 F.2d 178, 180 (6th Cir. 1963), cert. denied 375 U.S. 907, 84 S.Ct. 199, 11 L.Ed.2d 147. The trial court's action was reasonable in light of the fact that the publicity surrounding Petitioner's exploits had, to a great extent, subsided by July of 1970. Moreover, the judge would have no reason to believe that Murphy, who was known statewide, if not nationwide, would not have as good an opportunity to receive a fair trial in Dade County as he would have anywhere else in Florida. In any event, an extensive voir dire would stand as the primary safeguard against the erosion of Petitioner's right to a fair trial because of the existence of allegedly prejudicial pre-trial publicity.

Petitioner contends, however, that the results of the voir dire of the panel necessitated the granting of his motion to change venue. A thorough review of the record of the voir dire reflects the following disposition of the panel. Of the seventy-eight jurors questioned, twelve were excused peremptorily by the Petitioner; twenty-seven were excused for medical, family or economic reasons; three were excused for miscellaneous reasons; twenty were excused because they had formed an opinion that Petitioner was guilty and they could not give the Petitioner a fair trial; eight prospective jurors were peremptorily excused by the State. Eight jurors were selected to serve at the trial — six regular and two alternates.

Of the eight selected, five had read or heard about the facts surrounding the Wofford robbery through the media, from discussions with friends and neighbors, or through discussions with other prospective jurors. Each of the eight selected jurors knew that the Petitioner had previously been convicted in either the Star of India theft or the Whiskey Creek murders.

The crucial issue before this Court is whether either knowledge of the facts surrounding the Wofford robbery or knowledge of the Petitioner's prior felony convictions was sufficient to render these jurors impartial in light of their assurances to the court that they would reach a verdict based solely on the evidence introduced at trial.2 The Supreme Court of the United States, realizing the dilemma faced by the courts in ensuring a fair trial for the accused who has been the target of pre-trial publicity, set forth the test for ascertaining the impartiality of a prospective juror. The Court stated:

It is not required, however, that the jurors be totally ignorant of the facts and issues involved. In these days of swift, widespread and diverse methods of communication, an important case can be expected to arouse the interest of the public in the vicinity, and scarcely any of those best qualified to serve as jurors will not have formed some impression or opinion as to the merits of the case. This is particularly true in criminal cases. To hold that the mere existence of any preconceived notion as to the guilt or innocence of an accused, without more, is sufficient to rebut the presumption of a prospective juror's impartiality would be to establish an impossible standard. It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court. Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 722-723, 81 S.Ct. 1639, 1642, 6 L.Ed.2d 751 (1961).

Petitioner is in the position of asking this Court to infer that the jurors in this case were biased because they were aware of his prior felony convictions or...

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5 cases
  • 44 589 Murphy v. Florida 8212 5116
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 16, 1975
    ... 421 U.S. 794 ... 95 S.Ct. 2031 ... 44 L.Ed.2d 589 ... Jack Roland MURPHY, Petitioner, ... State of FLORIDA ... No. 74—5116 ... Argued April 15, 1975 ... Decided June 16, 1975 ...           Syllabus ...           Petitioner, who was convicted in state court of robbery contends in this habeas corpus proceeding that he was denied a fair trial because ... ...
  • Snyder v. Coiner
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • February 7, 1975
    ...a basis for relief if it could be said to have been so prejudicial as to be violative of due process. See Murphy v. State of Florida (D.C.Fla.1973) 363 F.Supp. 1224, 1228--1230, aff. 5 Cir., 495 F.2d 553, 556. We do not find it of such dimensions and it gives no basis for federal habeas rel......
  • Marshall v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • December 6, 1995
    ...where a juror had undertaken an independent view of the crime scene), rev. denied, 472 So.2d 1182 (Fla.1985); Murphy v. State of Florida, 363 F.Supp. 1224 (S.D.Fla.1973) (jurors with knowledge of inadmissible evidence of defendant's prior convictions were not constitutionally barred from se......
  • Hall v. State of Florida, 74-526-Civ-J-S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
    • June 2, 1975
    ...assurances satisfied the trial court and now this Court that petitioner was not unduly prejudiced by the remark. See Murphy v. State, 363 F.Supp. 1224 (S.D.Fla.1973), affirmed 495 F.2d 553 (5th Cir. 1974). Turning now to petitioner's second claim, he again exaggerates. The following recount......
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