Wednesday, December 31, 1997

Lawyer persuaded wife to lie

Facing 7 felony counts, lawyer strikes bargain


Sheridan attorney Bill Murphy agreed to give up his law license Tuesday when he admitted to coercing his wife, Sandra, into lying before a federal grand jury.
    In a surprise move before U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, Murphy pleaded guilty to suborning perjury a week before he was to stand trial on four of seven federal felony counts, including allegations that he conspired with Dan Harmon to turn the 7th Judicial District prosecuting attorney's office into a criminal enterprise.
    Murphy's attorney, Sam Heuer, did not return phone messages after the brief hearing Tuesday afternoon.
    Suborning perjury carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine although sentences are governed by federal guidelines.
    In exchange for Murphy's guilty plea, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the other six charges listed in two federal indictments: racketeering, two counts of conspiracy to commit extortion, bank fraud, another count of suborning perjury and one of conspiracy to influence or prevent grand jury testimony.
    Murphy, 50, agreed to give up his law license by the time of his sentencing. No sentencing date has been set.
    Murphy is a trial attorney and former deputy prosecutor. He was first indicted in April along with Harmon and six others, including Roger Walls, the former head of the 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force. That indictment brought Murphy's racketeering, conspiracy and bank fraud charges.
    Harmon, whose charges overlapped with those faced by both Murphy and Walls, went to trial alone not long after the indictment and was convicted in June of five of the 11 charges he faced. Two other defendants entered guilty pleas during Harmon's trial, and two more had charges against them dismissed.
    In October, a grand jury issued an indictment alleging that Murphy had been involved in a conspiracy and had persuaded people to give false testimony to the grand jury.
    Murphy's plea leaves Walls on his own for Tuesday's trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Reasoner. Walls is accused of racketeering with Harmon, as well as one charge of conspiring to manufacture drugs and two of conspiring to commit extortion.
    Murphy's plea "has no impact on us," said Walls' attorney, Jack Lassiter, who said he was busy preparing for trial. "The count he pleaded to has nothing to do with Roger Walls."
    U.S. Attorney Paula Casey said Tuesday that she did not believe Murphy's guilty plea would affect Walls' chances of being acquitted or convicted. Although they were supposed to be tried together for allegedly participating in the same illegal racket, only one of their charges -- racketeering -- overlapped.
    The charge Murphy admitted to Tuesday involved persuading his wife, Sandra, to lie to a federal grand jury in May, when it was looking into the source of money Murphy used to pay Kroger Co. about $25,900. The money, the indictment said, was to reimburse the company the amount Sandra Murphy was accused of stealing through a check-kiting scheme.
    According to the indictment, Murphy persuaded his wife to tell the grand jury he had obtained a loan from his sister, when in reality he had received the money through an arrangement with a methamphetamine dealer named Billy Wright, whom Murphy later represented on drug charges in federal court.
    According to the Arkansas Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Conduct, Murphy was admitted to the state bar in 1976. He has since received two letters of caution and two reprimands. As of Tuesday, he remained a lawyer in good standing.

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