The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 7, 2013

Bus driver rape defendant commits suicide on eve of trial

By SHELLEY TERRY - sterry@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — On the eve of his trial, a school bus driver accused of raping three young female students killed himself in Harpersfield Township, his attorney said.

Virgil Murphy Jr., 57, of Geneva, shot himself in the head with a .38-caliber hand gun at the Harpersfield Dam near the canoe launching site, said Richard Mongell, chief investigator for the Ashtabula County Coroner’s Office. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:34 p.m. Tuesday,

Mongell said.

“He took things into his own hands,” said his defense attorney, Dean Topalof, who added that his client suffered with a lot of medical issues. “Now there will never be a resolution to the case.”

Murphy’s brother-in-law, Bob Ray, said the suicide was the culmination of a number of things, including his innocence and news of terminal cancer.

Murphy’s death ends a case that saw him charged with two counts of rape, 10 counts of third-degree gross sexual imposition and three counts of fourth-degree gross sexual imposition, Ashtabula County Common Pleas Court records show.

He faced up to 40 years in prison if convicted; however, on Tuesday morning, prosecutors offered a negotiated plea, having him plea on the criminal gross sexual imposition charges against him, said Detective Lt. Terry A. Moisio of the Sheriff’s Department.

Topalof and fellow Public Defender Marie Lane met with Murphy Tuesday morning and discussed the plea deal, Topalof said.

The plea would have sent him to prison for seven years, Topalof said, noting Murphy agreed to take it.

A plea hearing was set for 1 p.m. Tuesday, but Murphy never showed up, Moisio said, and when Murphy didn’t appear in court at his scheduled time, Geneva police were sent to his home to check on his whereabouts. Information from family members indicated Murphy had left home to go to the hearing in Jefferson.

“His wife said he was upset and we expected him (in court),” Topalof said, “We didn’t know if he took off or what. We asked the sheriff’s deputies to be on the lookout for his vehicle ... a short time later, his body was found by a passerby. It’s a hard case. For any defendant, these types of cases are hard cases.”

Ray of Geneva said the suicide was most likely a combination of factors.

Tuesday morning, Murphy’s doctor told him he only had three months to live.

“His prostate cancer had spread to his bladder and other organs,” Ray said. “He was terminal.”

Second, Murphy really did not want to take the plea bargain, Ray said.

“He said, ‘I will not go to prison for something I didn’t do,’” Ray said. “I’ve known Virgil (Murphy) for 35 years and the last time we spoke eye-to-eye, he said, ‘I did not do this.’”

Ray said it’s a sad case.

Murphy stopped by his sister’s house and talked with her for a few minutes before going to Harpersfield, Ray said.

He did not mention suicide, he said.

Ray believes his brother-in-law “took the simplest way out.”

Lake County Prosecutor Charles Coulsen said he was surprised to hear of Murphy’s suicide.

“It was not the end result we expected or wanted,” he said.

The Ashtabula County Prosecutor’s Office was recused from the case because as Assistant Prosecutor Susan Thomas was preparing the children for trial, one of them disclosed another incident, making Thomas a witness. She was scheduled to testify against Murphy at the trial, she said.

Police have said Murphy had sexual contact with the students at his Geneva residence. All three girls were 13 or younger, prosecutors have said.

Murphy was on leave from his job with Ashtabula Area City Schools, pending the outcome of the trial.