Category: Archive

Court weighs Molloy background as evidence

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

The New York police officer accused of killing Derry native Hessy Phelan in a Bronx bar more than two years ago appeared in a State Supreme Court Monday as hearings continued in preparation for his trial on murder charges.

The defendant, Richard Molloy, dressed in a charcoal gray jacket, white shirt and patterned yellow tie, sat calmly before the judge as his lawyer, George Vallario, and assistant district attorney Brian Sullivan hammered out which details of the officer’s past — including allegations of drunken gunplay — would be admissible as evidence in the trial.

Molloy is accused of fatally shooting Phelan in the head inside a Bronx apartment in January 1996. Molloy has always contended that Phelan committed suicide by snatching away the officer’s .38-caliber service weapon and shooting himself through the left eye. Pointing to medical examiner’s reports, the prosecution charges that that scenario is impossible. Molloy pulled the trigger, prosecutors say, and point to allegations of brutality in the officer’s past as evidence.

On Monday, with a lapel photograph of her son pinned to her blouse, Anna Phelan sat in the court’s second row with other relatives and friends. The family arrived last week from Derry to find that the date of the trial had been pushed back again as the pre-trial legal wrangling over Molloy’s past continued.

"I’m bitterly disappointed," Anna Phelan said after Monday’s hearing. "I thought I was coming here for a trial and now I have to wait until Sept. 25 to find out when it will start."

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Hessy Phelan, 39, had spent 10 years in the Maze prison for membership of the Irish National Liberation Army before coming to the U.S., where he found work as a housepainter. Molloy is currently out on bail, working on modified duty with the police department, which means he has handed in his gun and badge.

During Monday’s deliberations, Sullivan laid out incidents in Molloy’s personal history that the prosecution says prove the shooting was neither an accident nor a suicide. Those incidents include Molloy allegedly twice in two weeks shooting out lights in a bar because he said they annoyed him, pulling his handgun out during an argument in a bar, and also pointing his weapon at an occupant of the apartment where Phelan later died.

In one incident in the summer of 1995, Molloy, Sullivan said, was talking at a bar about violence in Northern Ireland when he allegedly said, "I’ll show you some violence," and fired seven rounds from a semi-automatic weapon in the air outside the building, before picking up the spent shells and carrying on drinking.

Introducing these incidents to the trial was appropriate to prove the identity of the person who pulled the trigger the night Phelan died, Sullivan told the court. Molloy’s defense now has a week to present its argument against introduction of these allegations.

Defense attorney Vallario was not immediately available for comment.

During the hearing, the court also heard about 15 complaints lodged against Molloy with the Citizen’s Complaint Review Board, the semi-autonomous New York city agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct and abuse of power.

The judge ruled that five of those incidents could be introduced, including a complaint by Charles Siedarman, who is taking civil action against Molloy for allegedly stomping on his leg until it broke. The defense claimed that none of the 15 complaints had been substantiated by investigators.

After the hearing, Hessy Phelan’s sister Martina Boback said the family was "cautiously optimistic" despite disappointment about the pace of the proceedings.

"There’s a ray of hope," Anna Phelan said.

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