Death penalty off table in murder case

The attorneys on each side of the murder trial of Darcel Murphy agreed to take the death penalty off the table and to let a judge hear the case rather than a jury.

The motivating factor behind the latter decision is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has made it impractical for courts to hold jury trials. Instead of death, the maximum punishment Murphy could face is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Rather than a trial and possible sentencing phase that could have lasted an entire month, Murphy’s case is now scheduled to be heard in one week at the end of September. Should he be convicted, sentencing would likely occur at a later date.

Murphy, 33, is accused of killing 43-year-old Kevin Robinson at his home on Oakland Road on March 30, 2016. An accomplice, Dion Phoenix, pleaded guilty in 2017 to first-degree murder and was sentenced to 45 years in prison, including 30 years for murder. Phoenix, who was 24 at the time of Robinson’s death, had previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia and two other mental disorders. Tobias Owens, the third defendant in the case, has his next court date scheduled on Nov. 9.

The Louisa County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office charged Murphy with capital murder because he and Phoenix allegedly stole a watch while at the murder scene. The charge remains capital murder even though death is no longer a possible punishment in the case.

Judge Timothy Sanner ruled on Sept. 10 that a portrait of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee should be removed from the courtroom prior to Murphy’s trial. Douglas Ramseur, Murphy’s lead attorney, had argued that his client, who is Black, cannot get a fair trial with the portrait on the courtroom’s back wall. (See related story at this link: https://bit.ly/3bNlM4D)

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