Paddy Murphy spent 36 years in prison. Did he commit the crime?(unfinished)
When Paddy Murphy first went to prison his fellow inmates called him Kid. That was in 1969. Now, thirty-six years later, they call him Pops. It was a defining moment in Paddy`s life: the first time a young punk called him Pops. It was the day he realized he`d grown old in prison. His fellow inmates think they are giving him respect, and maybe they are, but to Paddy every Pops is a sharp reminder of the life he has wasted, the youth he has squandered. The worst part for Paddy is having to play the role, having to act as if he`s some sort of damned prison guru just because he was stupid enough to spend most of his life behind the wall. He plays the role because it`s the only currency an old man has in prison.
"Come ’ere, kid," he`d say, "let me tell ya about the Attica riots," and the young, stupid punks would gaze at him wide eyed like he was freaking Joe Dimaggio. When he was done telling the punks about the heroes, his personal friends, who died at Attica for their stinking right to watch TV, he’d ask them if they had any smokes they could spare. They’d give him a couple of packs from the packages their mommies and girlfriends sent them. Survival is the name of the game.
In the years between kid and Pops, they called him Irish. Those were his best years. When he was young and strong and ignorant. Yes, ignorance IS bliss for a career criminal, but the ignorance of youth could no longer save him from the sting of reality: he had grown old in prison and was probably going to die there. Yes, he WAS going to die there.
Dying in prison is what Paddy “Irish” Murphy was thinking about as he lay there in his cold, dank cell on a snowy Wednesday afternoon. And why wouldn’t he? He had murdered the son of a judge-they say. He tended to believe them. He was a hot tempered Irish kid back then, especially when drinking. He had done a lot of that that night. So much that he had blacked out, unable to remember anything. But, as long as he lives, he’ll never forget waking up in a jail cell next morning, his head aching, and wondering where the hell he was until he turned over and saw the steel bars, and the two fat guards with smirks on their self-satisfied faces.
"What happened?" he groaned at them. “What the hell did I do?"
The bigger guard broke into a grin and looked at the other. “He doesn`t know what he did, Frank.”
“Guess not," Frank chuckled. “Probably too damn drunk."
“Well, I’ll be damned," the bigger one said.“Ain’t that precious. Well, I’ll tell ya what ya did, Murphy. You bought yourself a one way ticket to the electric chair."
“Electric chair? What the hell are you talking about?” Murphy had asked.
“Well, Frank, not only is he a drunk and a murderer, but he ain`t too bright neither."
“Murderer!” Murphy screamed. “Stop playing games with me!”
“This ain’t no game, Murphy. You killed a man last night. Shot him in cold blood comin’ out of a restaurant with his pregnant wife. And guess what? It was a judge’s son. You’re gonna fry for this Murphy."
There were witnesses, his lawyer had said. Three of them, ready to stand up in court and point a finger at Paddy Murphy. And there was blood, blood on the handle and trigger of the gun. The prosecutors alleged that Paddy had had a fist fight with the victim, cutting his hand before pulling out a gun and shooting him. The blood on the gun, type A, was the same as Paddy`s.
"I recommend you take the deal, son," his lawyer, a silver haired man in his early sixties, had said. "We just don`t have much of a defense."
"But I don`t remember killing him...my family."
"I know," his lawyer put up a hand, "I know. It`s a hard thing standing up and being," the lawyer hesitated," being responsible. But, son, think of your children. You listen to me. Those witnesses, all fine upstanding citizens, are going to walk in that court room. They are going to put their hands on the bible. They are going to look directly into the eyes of the jury and swear that you killed that young man. Now, that young man-his whole life was ahead of him. Married. Child on the way. That jury will have no pity on you. Understand? They will sentence you to death. As your lawyer I recommend you take the deal." Paddy took the deal: life in prison.
There was a small window in front of his cell, and from where he lay on his bunk, he could see tiny snow flakes fluttering softly to the ground below. Another winter, he thought. Another Christmas. And like every year, he wondered if he could survive it. Wondered if he could make it to the twenty-sixth without thinking about the dark thing, the black thing he kept hidden in a secret compartment in his mind. He dare not look at it during Christmas. He knew that the memory of it might kill him. I Can’t do it! he screamed in his mind. Can’t do it! Can’t do it! Then, as if his own mind was his mortal enemy, it suddenly and swiftly carried him back there to that awful day.
It was his second year in prison. Christmas day, 1971. He was so excited he could hardly sleep the night before. When he woke early next morning he jumped from his bunk like millions of little boys had done that day. He brushed his teeth and washed his face and combed his hair in his tiny metal-polished mirror in the corner of his cell. He then went to his bunk and, lifting his thin mattress, carefully removed his now pressed green prison shirt and pants. He inspected them carefully. A couple of wrinkles, but not bad. He dressed himself and then lay back on his bunk and re-read the letter he had received the day before.
My dearest Paddy,
Sorry we haven’t been to visit in so long. You know I would be there every day if we had our own car. But guess what darling? Are you guessing? Well, then love, I’ll just tell you. We’re all coming to see you on Christmas day! I hope this gets to you in time. Your mother is going to drive us up. Little Katie asks about her Daddy every day, and Paddy Jr. Looks just like you. Lucky him!! Oh Sweetheart, I can’t wait!! We miss you so very, very much. Please have faith. And don’t worry, we’ll wait for you. I know you’re going to win your appeal, and we’ll all be together again as a family. Well, my true love, I have to end this short. Little Paddy is reaching into the fish bowl. Ha, ha. Good-bye my love.
He folded the letter and slipped it into his shirt pocket. He lay there on his bunk smiling at the ceiling and thinking of his wonderful family. Because of him they had been through hell, and yet they believed in him, believed him incapable of murder. He heard the guard coming down the catwalk. The sound of his keys coming closer. He jumped out of his bunk and walked to his cell door hoping that the guard would stop. The guard looked at him and smirked as he walked by.
"Johnson, visit," he heard the guard bark at an inmate.
That`s the way it went all morning and afternoon. The guard walking by Paddy`s cell and returning with a different inmate. Finally, the guard stopped. Paddy jumped off his bunk and ran to his cell door. "I’ve got a visit?"
The guards face looked sheepish, rare for a guard. "No, Murphy. Chaplin wants to see you."
"The Chaplin? What for?"
The guard sighed. "You’re going to have to talk to the Chaplin about that, Murphy. We’d better go."
The chaplains office was small and cluttered,and a plump little man sat behind the desk. "Please sit down, Mr. Murphy."
A feeling of dread washed over Paddy as he sat down. The chaplain sat forward, his hands clasped together on the desk." I am truly sorry to inform you, Mr Murphy, but theres been an accident. A car accident. Apparently your family were on their way here to visit you."
Paddy lay on his bunk now, remembering it all TOO clearly. They were all killed instantly, the chaplain had said. Slid off the road and into a tree. It was only several days later that paddy was called back to the chaplains office and told that his daughter had survived. The little chaplain was waiting at the door of his office and he took paddy`s hand warmly into his own. His face was flush and his eyes were afire with the glory of his god.
"I was on the phone, Mr.Murphy, just moments ago. A Dr.Montgomery from Rochester General Hospital. He has told me your daughter,Katie, is alive and that...that it`s a miracle she has survived! A miracle!" he exclaimed, proudly.
Even now the memory of it brought tears of gratitude to paddy`s eyes. It WAS a miracle , he thought. How could such a little body survive such a terrible accident if not for the will of god? He thought of the little girl now as he remembered her:brown pig tails, big brown eyes and a smiling face, as she bounded through the house happily yelling, "dada! dada! dada!" The little girl loved singing, and when Paddy sang in turn she would clap her little hands and say:"yay, dada! Yay, dada!" Even then she was rooting him on; even then she was his little champion.
Paddy had forfeited what parental rights he had, such as visitation and correspondence. The girl, being young and without relatives, was quickly adopted. Paddy had thought of this over the years with more than a little regret, but believing it to be, ultimately, the best thing for the little girl. She need never know her father was a murderer. That it was his fault , however indirectly, that her family was killed in a car accident coming to visit HIM. He felt ill as he thought of this. Not only was he responsible for four deaths, but also his daughter being orphaned. A disease, he thought. That`s what I`ve always been. A rotten disease.
"Mail!" he heard the guard call from the top of the catwalk. "Wilson! Ortiz! Jefferson! Murphy!"
The guard tossed a white envelope on the floor inside Paddy`s cell and went on handing out mail. Paddy eyed the envelope with suspicion. He couldn`t remember the last time he received mail. Plenty of Murphy`s around here, he thought. Now, he`d have to get off his bunk and pass the envelope back to the guard before he left the catwalk.
He was tired. So tired. He looked at the thin green blanket that covered his body and could barely see the outline of his thin legs. He was reminded of his grandmother, so long ago, lying on her death bed, eaten away by the cancer. He remembered being astonished when he saw her and, as a young boy, having an urge to pull the sheet away to see if she had vanished altogether.
He heard the guard coming back down the catwalk and pulled the blanket away. He walked to his cell door just as the guard was passing. "Boss, you made a mistake here." Paddy picked the envelope up and handed it back through the bars.
"I don`t make mistakes, Murphy," the guard stated, eying the envelope. "Your name IS Paddy Murphy isn`t it?"
"And your number IS 69a1752, right?"
"And you live in cell number four, don`t you?"
Paddy didn`t say anything.
"Then this is your damn mail!" the guard, said, handing it back to Paddy. "Next time look at it before you waste my time."
The guard stormed off leaving paddy staring at the envelope. The top of the envelope read: Richard Zimmerman, Attorney at law. A lawyer? Paddy, thought. What the hell does a lawyer want with me? I don`t have any money.
When Paddy was tucked back in under his blanket he opened the envelope.
Mr. Paddy Murphy,
This letter is to inform you that I have been retained on your behalf to petition the District Attorney of Monroe county, N.Y., to release d.n.a evidence collected from the crime scene of the crime in which you were convicted, and to order a blood test of yourself , for the purpose of d.n.a testing, conducted and administered in a timely manner by the department of correctional services of New York State.
Mr. Murphy, the party who retained me on your behalf has, at this time, requested to stay anonymous. I will be visiting the prison in a few days to discuss this entire matter with you in more detail.
Paddy stared at the letter stunned, and for a moment thought he was dreaming. He had so many questions: who was this attorney? and more importantly, who hired him? Who in the world would take such an interest in Paddy Murphy. Was it possible that he hadn`t committed the murder? Could a d.n.a. test really prove it? and if it did, how quick could he be out? Paddy was in a high state of excitement and he jumped out of bed and began pacing his cell. The lawyer said he would be there in a few days, but what is that? three days? four? a week? He wanted answers and he wanted them now! He never took much of an interest in the law, so he didn`t know much about it, but he knew someone who did.
He had known Danny Miller for twenty years. Miller was one of those inmates who treated prison like a home away from home. He`d been in and out five times in the past twenty years on skid bids. Guys who knew Miller thought he caught these small time cases so that he could play jail house lawyer and try and free himself, which he actually did once on a technicality. He felt it was the ultimate battle on the ultimate stage, and it didn`t matter if he was truly guilty, which he always was. He approached each battle with the righteous indignity of an innocent man being unjustly condemned. He was obsessed with the law , and because of his knowledge of it, he was always given a job in the prisons law library. Paddy would send a kite to Miller and have him meet him in the yard tonight.
Paddy waited by the bleachers, and as inmates filed through the gate and into the yard, he saw Miller. At six foot five and 280 pounds he was hard to miss. Miller had the deepest voice of any man Paddy had ever known. It was the sort of voice that startled people on the street even when he was talking conversationally. Miller saw Paddy and walked up to him, "What`s on your mind old timer?"
"I got a letter today. Lets walk." Paddy described the letter in detail, and Miller listened quietly and without comment, only nodding occasionally. When Paddy finished he looked up at Miller. "Well, what do you think?"
Miller didn`t say anything, and Just when Paddy was about to ask him what the hell was wrong with him, Miller raised his head. "Hot damn, Paddy!" he boomed. "Hot damn!"
Every con in the yard looked over at them nervously. One never knew when a riot might jump off, or simply a random act of violence. A guard stepped from one of the heated little shacks that were scattered around the yard for purposes of observation. He glared at them, and then his expression softened a bit.
"Oh, it`s you, Miller. Shoulda` fuckin` known. Quiet it down, will ya? you`re not at a Bills game."
"I wouldn`t be caught dead at a fucking Bills game!"
"Watch it, Miller," the guard, grinned, before stepping back in his cozy little shack.
Miller stopped walking and looked at Paddy. "Do you know what this means, old timer? It means if your d.n.a doesn`t match the d.n.a on that gun, you`re going to be vindicated ."
Miller was talking rapidly now, his hands slicing through the air. "You`ll be famous. In all the newspapers. You could end up on Opra for this. Christ, this is the sort of case I`ve always dreamed of!"
Have you dreamed of doing thirty six years straight?" Paddy, asked.
"No, Paddy, I sure havn`t. I don`t know how you did it. If I didn`t get out every couple of years for a little vacation I`d have gone nuts already."
Paddy gave him a side glance, but didn`t say anything.
"This is the deal: your attorney will have to petition the prosecutors in the county where the murder took place to release the evidence...if they still have it, and..."
"If they still have it? You mean they might have thrown it out?"
"They may have destroyed it, Paddy. It`s been thirty six years. I`m sorry to tell ya, but it`s a toss up. If they can find the evidence, and test it, and it doesn`t match yours, it`s a closed case. The owner of that blood is the one who pulled the trigger."
"When would I get out?"
"Couple of days probably. Hopefully the prosecutors will join your attorney in petitioning a county judge for your immediate release. Eventually, they`ll petition the governor for a full pardon."
Paddy`s excitement grew as Miller talked.
"Who do you think hired this attorney?" Miller asked.
I don`t know. I`ve been thinking a lot about that. You know my whole story, Miller. You know I don`t have any family, except..."
"I know who you`re thinking about, friend, but don`t set your self up. It could be anyone. You`ve made a lot of friends in thirty six years. Sometimes guys get out of here and make good. Just don`t set your self up."
Two days later a guard appeared at Paddy`s cell."Murphy! get dressed. State greens. You`ve got an attorney visit."
The guard escorted Paddy through a maze of well lighted corridors, each separated by a locked steel door, which the guard, expertly whipping out his key each time, unlocked and then locked again as they passed through. Finally, the guard unlocked a door that opened into a large room scattered with tables and chairs. A man wearing a dark suit sat at one of the tables, his briefcase on the floor next to him. As Paddy walked toward the table the lawyer stood up and reached out a hand,"Are you Paddy Murphy?"
"That`s me," Paddy said , taking the lawyers hand.
"I`m Richard Zimmerman, it`s nice to finally meet you, Paddy."
"I gotta say, it`s a lot nicer meeting you."
The lawyer laughed and the two men sat down at the table. The lawyer wasted no time.
"I want to start by saying that I have some good news. I`ve talked with the district attorney in Monroe county and he has agreed to have the d.n.a tested at an independent lab. Luckily, they were able to find it. I was a little worried about that."
Paddy let out an audible sigh of relief.
"They`ll be taking blood any day, maybe even today."
The lawyer glanced at his watch and then pulled out a pen from an inside pocket and began tapping his upper teeth with it. He stared at Paddy intensely far a moment, appearing to contemplate something, and then he went on.
"Okay, now I`ve been looking over your case, but because you didn`t go to trial there`s some unanswered questions. Did you know the the victim?"
"No, never met him in my life," Paddy said, honestly.
"Okay. So they allege it was a chance encounter. The two of you had words when the victim went to retrieve the car in the lot behind the restaurant. Right?"
"Right. Well, that`s what they said, but I don`t remember anything."
"Right. Because you had blacked out. You were passed out in the bushes when they found you."
"And the gun was lying next you."
"Okay. And they say the gun was stolen earlier that night from a house that was broken into. The burglar went through a broken window and that`s how you could have cut your hands."
"Well, you had cuts on your hands. They allege you cut your hands from fighting with the victim, but it could have been from the broken window."
"I don`t follow."
"Lets say you broke into the house, Mr Murphy, and stole the gun. You go wandering down the street and pass out in the bushes. Some junkie comes along, sees you passed out and goes rifling through your pockets. He finds the gun, but no money. Then he sees the victim in the parking lot and decides to rob HIM. Things go wrong and he shoots him. Then the guy tosses the gun next to you and runs off."
"Gee. I never thought of that."
"Well, It`s possible. I`ve seen stranger things. The only problem with this theory is that your blood could be on the gun...from the broken window. So, lets hope that`s not what happened. Lets hope you were just a victim of circumstance. Wrong place at the wrong time. Some guy robs the house ,steals the gun, shoots the victim and tosses the gun in the bushes ten feet from where you`re lying passed out. You could have cut your hands when you fell in the bushes."
"You think I did it, don`t you?"
"Mr. Murphy, I don`t know whether you did it or not. YOU don`t even know if you did it. What I can tell you is that almost 200 people have been exonerated in the last ten years because of d.n.a analysis, and some of those cases were a lot more incriminating than yours."
The lawyer thought for a moment, tapping his teeth with his pen.
"At least they don`t have your prints on the gun, but they weren`t able to lift ANY good prints, so that`s a wash. The blood match, type A, is common, but at the time they were able to prove that you couldn`t be excluded as the shooter. What we have to hope for is that your blood is not anywhere on that gun. That blood has got to belong to someone other than you and the victim. If that`s the case we`ll have you out of here. I can promise you that."
"How about the witnesses? They said there were people who saw me shoot the guy."
"I`ve checked into that. the witnesses were all family and friends of the victim. My question is: if they were out in front of the restaurant waiting for the victim to bring the car around then how did they see you shoot him?"
"Good point," Paddy said, smiling.
"Now, it wouldn`t be the first time witnesses claimed to see something just because they think the police have the right guy, and they don`t want that guy to get off. The police sometimes push them a little too."
"Okay!" Paddy said, smiling."Okay! I see you`re a damn good lawyer. You`re a thinker! I wish I had you thirty six years ago."
"Well, Mr.Murphy, I don`t think your lawyer was a genius, but at the time, if you had gone to trial you probably would have been found guilty and given the death penalty, and you would be dead right now. So, in the end, he probably did the right thing."
"I guess so. Funny how life works."
"I have one more question," Paddy said, "and Mr Zimmerman, it would mean the the world to me...who hired you?"
The lawyer looked at Paddy for a long moment.
"Mr Murphy, that is a question I would truly love to answer for you, but I just can`t. It would violate my other clients attorney privilege. I hope you understand?"
"I guess, but will I ever know?"
"If you`re found to be not guilty my client intends to meet with you immediately."
"Only if i`m not guilty?"
"Only if you`re not guilty."
"Well, there it is," Paddy said.
Later that day Paddy was escorted to the infirmary to have a tube of blood drawn. Now, it was a waiting game.
Paddy lived the next two weeks like a man in a trance. There was no word on the d.n.a test and nothing from his attorney. He began having sharp stomach pains after the first week, which he attributed to an ulcer forming because of the spicy prison food, so he stopped eating. He drank only water and lost ten pounds. Because he wasn`t eating he didn`t have the energy to leave his cell. He passed the days sleeping and dreaming. Eventually he became delusional and had trouble distinguishing dream from reality. He was certain one day that his wife and son were standing outside his cell watching him. Another time, his daughter, as he imagined she would look as a woman. She was smiling at him. "I knew you couldn`t have done it," she was saying over and over. Another time it was his mother and father who simply stood there smiling softly at him, their eyes conveying what words could not.
One day a guard appeared at his cell.
"You okay, Murphy?"
"Yea," Paddy managed to mumble.
"Well, you don`t look it," said the guard, whose name was O`brien. He was one of the few guards Paddy liked. "You havn`t gone to the messhall on my shift for a week."
"I`ve been goin`to breakfast," Paddy lied.
"Uh, huh. Well, I`ll be keeping an eye on you."
"You`ve got some mail here," O`brien said, dropping an envelope on the floor inside Paddy`s cell. O`brien was about to leave and then hesitated. "I think that might be the letter you`re waiting for. Anyway, good luck, Murph," he said, before walking off.
Paddy was weak and he managed to stand, but when he reached the envelope he collapsed. He lay there on the cement floor for a moment staring at the envelope. Slowy, tentatively, he reached for the envelope, opened it and read it. "Well, there it is," he whispered to himself. "There it is," and he slipped off into darkness and dreamed.
He was crawling through a broken window, a sharp pain seized the palm of his right hand. He fell hard to the grassy ground below. He stood up, the earth was spinning. He steadied himself, then staggered through the yard to the sidewalk. The wind was cold, and when he walked he felt the beating of his heart in his hand as a warm sticky substance dripped from his fingers. He came upon a parking lot and saw a man walking alone. The man glanced at Paddy and sneered. He looked Paddy up and down as if he were inspecting the rotten carcus of a dead skunk on the side of a dirt road.
"Don`t even ask, pal," the man said, "I don`t give change to bumbs."
Paddy felt the blood rising up into his face. "I wasn`t goona ask you for nothin," Paddy slurred, staggering toward the man.
"Be carefull," the man, who was much larger than Paddy, warned. "I don`t like to break up drunks."
"Please, Mister. Please don`t break me up," Paddy whined, pulling the gun from his jacket pocket.
"Whoa...Whoa," the man pleaded now, raising his hands, a look of terror on his face. "I have some money in my wallet. I don`t want any trouble."
"Who ever said I wanted y`ur stinkin` money? I don`t want y`ur stinkin` money, Mister. Know what I want? I want y`ur stinkin` respect."
"Okay. Okay. You got it. I`m sorry for what I said."
"Okay then," Paddy said. "Okay. I forgive ya this time."
Paddy started away when the man charged. Paddy turned back, startled, and pulled the trigger. The bullet ripped through the mans chest knocking him back against his car. He heard a woman scream. He stumbled backward. Turned and tried to run, but tripped and fell into a thick patch of bushes. He couldn`t move. Darkness engulfed him.
The guard, O`brien, was making his final rounds for the night when he came accross cell number four. He saw Paddy lying on the floor in a fetal position, letter still in hand.
"Murphy!" O`brien yelled. Paddy lay stone still.
O`brien turned toward the control booth at the end of the catwalk, "Open four!" he screamed.
It was a cool and windy morning, but the bright sunshine and blue sky made the day feel a bit warmer. The funeral, which was held at the prison cemetery, consisted of the prison chaplain, a few guards, a couple of inmates and a woman no one knew. With the help of her attorney she had been granted permission to attend. Danny Miller was one of the inmates attending the funeral, and after the coffin was lowered into the ground he walked up to the young woman.
"Are you Katie?"
The young woman hesitated and then nodded.
"Your father was a friend of mine. He was a good man."
"What was he like?" she asked.
"He lived everyday with it. I don`t think I`ve ever met a man who regretted his past more."
The woman nodded.
"He would have given anything to have met you. He would have given more for your forgiveness."
Her face hardened and she looked at Danny Miller.
"My father may have been a friend of yours, but he murdered an innocent man. Because of his actions my entire family was killed in a car accident driving to visit him in prison. I spent my childhood in foster homes-some of them very abusive. I didn`t come here to forgive him. I came here to forget him."
The woman turned from Danny Miller, and motioning a guard, quickly walked away through the old cemetery.