WUSA reports that prosecutors in Bristow, VA have indicted Karen Murphy on felony murder and felony child neglect after her son died June 17 as a result of being left in a vehicle. It’s not terribly surprising that the grand jury would agree to the charges but it’s disappointing that the prosecutor would ask for them.
Gene Weingarten wrote on this subject two years ago in his excellent piece Fatal Distraction. It’s so good that if I had to choose between you finishing this article and you clicking away to read it and not coming back… I’d have to pick that you go. It’s a moving and difficult read and worth every second.
I suspect that if anyone on that grand jury had read it they’d have refused to indict on a murder charge and possibly on child abuse. Without that empathetic insight into what these cases typically involve it’s not too surprising they’d choose to indict. The death of a child works us into a rage that rivals any other and the instinct to find someone to blame is hard to resist.
Not impossible, though. Weingarten’s piece quotes a Virginia prosecutor from another area of the state who describes why, in a case tragically similar, he opted not to seek any convictions.
In Portsmouth, the decision not to charge Culpepper, 40, was made by Commonwealth’s Attorney Earle Mobley. As tragic as the child’s death was, Mobley says, a police investigation showed that there was no crime because there was no intent; Culpepper wasn’t callously gambling with the child’s life — he had forgotten the child was there.
“The easy thing in a case like this is to dump it on a jury, but that is not the right thing to do,” Mobley says. A prosecutor’s responsibility, he says, is to achieve justice, not to settle some sort of score.
“I’m not pretty sure I made the right decision,” he says. “I’m positive I made the right decision.”
I’m sad that Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert lacks the same certainty. Absent any new information – which doesn’t seem to be forthcoming – it looks like this case is just going to drag another already suffering soul in front of a court for nothing.