The New York City police are getting a lot of attention these days — most of it bad.
With the fatal shooting of African immigrant Amadou Diallo and the current row over the RUC fighting the NYPD in the Big Apple, New York cops are coming under increasing scrutiny.
It is mere coincidence that as the media glare focuses on the Bronx grand jury hearing evidence in the Diallo shooting, in the same courthouse another police officer sits facing charges in the death of another immigrant. In this case, however, the death took place three years ago.
Richard Molloy, a 12-year veteran, is charged with murdering Hessy Phelan, a Derry man who died from a single gunshot would inside a Bronx apartment in January 1996.
The trial, which started this week, comes only after Phelan’s family, not satisfied with an earlier determination of suicide, pushed for answers. After three years, still no one is sure what happened inside that apartment. The prosecution plans to call 30 witnesses to buttress its charges that Molloy pulled the trigger. The defense, for its part, plays the case as a tragedy — but not a crime.
There are many unanswered questions. Would a drunken man, slight in stature, have the strength and presence of mind to pull a police officer’s handgun from a secure holster? Is Officer Molloy prone to reckless barroom gunplay or is he a decorated and dedicated police officer, as the defense claims?
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Those are questions that must be left in the hands of the presiding judge.
So, as the city searches for answers to the Diallo case, so too will answers emerge about what happened to Heslin Phelan. They will no doubt close what has been a sad and unnecessarily long chapter in the history of New York’s Irish community. Whatever the outcome of the trial, we hope its conclusion will bring some peace to the Phelan family.