Judge rules for city of Tulsa in lawsuit filed by woman exonerated of murder of her son
She claimed her Fifth, Fourteenth amendment rights were violated
A federal judge has rejected an exonerated woman’s claim that the city of Tulsa violated her civil rights when she was prosecuted for murder in connection with the 1994 stabbing death of her son.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell granted summary judgment on Tuesday in favor of the city of Tulsa, finding that attorneys for Michelle Murphy failed to produce evidence that the city had a policy or custom that led to violating her rights.
“Although Murphy has provided some evidence of a constitutional violation, a municipality cannot be liable under Section 1983 solely because its employees cause injury or damage,” Frizzell wrote in his opinion and order, referring to a section of the federal Civil Rights Act.
Tulsa City Attorney David O’Meilia said Wednesday that the city was “very pleased” with the outcome.
“The state court in releasing her from prison never found that the city or TPD was responsible for her not receiving a fair trial, and neither did the federal judge,” O’Meilia said. “This ruling ensures that Ms. Murphy is not going to profit from the state’s error by targeting the city and our Police Department as a deep pocket.”
David Keesling, an attorney for Murphy, said an appeal to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is planned.
“This just presents us with the next step, which is not the last step in this process,” Keesling said.
Murphy was convicted in the 1994 murder of her infant son before a judge vacated her conviction and life-without-parole sentence based on newly discovered DNA evidence. She served 20 years in prison before being freed.
Murphy told police she awoke Sept. 12, 1994, to find her 3-month-old son, Travis Wood, with his throat slashed in a pool of blood on her kitchen floor.
Former Tulsa District Attorney Tim Harris, lead prosecutor at Murphy’s murder trial in 1995, suggested to Murphy’s jury that she could have been the source of some of the blood found at the crime scene. Forensic tests have since proved that none of the blood at the scene was hers.
Murphy sued the city in 2015, claiming prosecutors, police and the city of Tulsa committed various wrongful acts during her prosecution and subsequent efforts to be freed from prison.
Murphy later amended her lawsuit to limit the target of her allegations to the city of Tulsa. Murphy claimed the city violated her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination through the use of her allegedly coerced statement to police at her criminal trial. She also alleged a violation of her 14th Amendment right to a fair trial. Read the TULSA WORLD article here