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A jury found Murphy guilty in June 2001 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in June 2003.
In Murphy's appeals, his defense challenged the admissibility of his signed statement, claiming that he gave it involuntarily. The reliability of Wilhelm's testimony that he carjacked her three years earlier was also a significant part of the appeals. The defense presented an alibi for Murphy that it claimed would exculpate him from being Wilhelm's attacker, but the courts were not convinced that it did. Another claim raised by the defense was that the prosecution erred in presenting computer-generated reports that were made using systems developed by prominent psychologists as though the reports were authored by the psychologists themselves.
On Death Row, Murphy expressed remorse for killing Cunningham. "I wake up to my crime daily and I've never gone a day without sincere remorse for the hurt I've caused," he wrote to the leader of a Jewish anti-death-penalty group. He denied involvement in the attack on Wilhelm.
Two days before his execution, Murphy's lawyers filed an appeal claiming that a fire that occurred in the administration building of the Huntsville Unit damaged the lethal injection chemical by subjecting it to extreme heat, creating "substantial risks of serious, severe, and superadded harm and pain." A response filed by the attorney general's office said that the drug, pentobarbital, was lab-tested and found to be "potent and sterile." The appeal was denied.
On the day of his execution, Murphy's lawyers filed a request for a stay based on the state's denial of his request to perform DNA testing on evidence from Wilhelm's case - another issue that had been adjudicated in earlier appeals in state courts, but which the defense had never taken to the federal courts. A federal district judge issued a stay because there was a similar case pending in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that a stay was appropriate until a decision was rendered in the related case. The Fifth Circuit agreed.
Most Texas executions begin at 6 p.m. sharp, but those that involve late appeals to the Supreme Court are sometimes delayed by an hour or two. Usually, the last-minute appeals are from prisoners seeking to have a stay issued by any court with jurisdiction to do so. In Murphy's case, the stay had already been issued, but the state was seeking to have it overturned. For most of the day Tuesday, then, Murphy was technically under a stay, but he knew that the execution could be back on track if that stay were overturned before midnight. The Supreme Court issued its order lifting the stay around 9 p.m. It had already denied the appeal related to the damaged drugs claim.
Murphy, who was Jewish, was accompanied in the execution chamber by his spiritual advisor, a Christian pastor. His friend, Vivian Schwarz, watched from one viewing room, while Wayne Martin, a family friend of Cunningham's, watched from the other.
Murphy began his last statement by saying, "To the family of the victim, I sincerely apologize for all of it." He then recited Psalm 34, which ends with, "The Lord redeems the soul of His servants, and none of those who trust in Him shall be condemned." After telling the warden he was ready, he turned his head toward a friend watching from a viewing room, telling her, "God bless all of y'all. It's OK. Tell my babies I love them." He then shouted, "Bella is my wife!"
The lethal injection was then started. A reporter who witnessed Murphy's death wrote that he "took two barely audible breaths and appeared to go to sleep." No indication was given that he experienced any pain. He was pronounced dead at 10:15 p.m.
By David Carson. Posted on 11 October 2023.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, court documents, Associated Press, Huntsville Item.