By Patrick Markey
The New York City police officer convicted of killing Irish immigrant Hessy Phelan in a Bronx apartment three years ago was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison Wednesday after protesting his innocence during a brief courtroom exchange with Phelan’s mother.
Partway through her victim impact statement to Judge Steven Barrett at Bronx State Supreme Court, Anna Phelan turned to officer Richard Molloy and asked why he had still not looked at her.
"That man over there shot my son down. I blame the NYPD for allowing him to walk the streets," she said.
"When you are passing sentence make it a fair and just sentence," she told the judge.
"I didn’t kill your son, Mrs. Phelan. You know that," Molloy replied from a nearby table where he sat with his attorneys.
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Molloy, who had grown a beard during his three-week incarceration, will serve a minimum of four years in a state prison. He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter on April 20 and had faced a prison term ranging from probation to a maximum of five to 15 years.
Molloy’s lawyer, George Vallerio, told the court that the trial had been laced with misrepresentations. While praising the judge for his ability to maintain fairness despite protests over the Amadou Diallo shooting outside the courthouse, Vallerio suggested the issue of police brutality could have "left a bad taste in the mouth" of anyone presiding over judicial proceedings.
But prosecutor Brian Sullivan said Molloy, even by his statement to Phelan’s mother just moments earlier, had shown no remorse or sorrow for the death of another human being.
With his parents and wife sitting behind him as they have for most of his trial, Molloy vigorously proclaimed his innocence during his statement to the judge. Tapping the table with his right hand, Molloy said the trial had been populated with liars, who would be shackled to their lies, while he was separated from his family.
"I took the stand and told the truth. I stand before you an innocent man," Molloy said.
The decision brought mixed reactions from the Phelan family. While expressing a sense of justice over the verdict and the sentence, they still held the NYPD culpable for Phelan’s death. Molloy’s reaction, in particular, had struck them as telling.
"I thought he would have got a higher sentence," Phelan’s sister Martina Boback said. "If Heslin came out of that apartment alive and Molloy was shot, Heslin would be serving life."
Molloy’s attorneys did not return several telephone calls made to their Brooklyn office seeking comment on Wednesday.
During a six-week trial his defense lawyers had portrayed Molloy as the victim of tragic circumstances. In the early morning hours of Jan. 21, 1996, Phelan and Molloy left a Bronx bar together. Less than an hour later, Phelan was dead, shot through the left eye.
Molloy’s lawyers said his encounter with a drunken and despondent Hessy Phelan had ended when the Irishman removed Molloy’s police handgun from its holster and shot himself in the head in an apparent suicide.
Phelan had served 10 years in the Maze prison for INLA membership and terrorist-related offenses in Derry before immigrating to the United States.
But it was the prosecution’s argument that swayed the judge. Molloy, enraged and fueled by alcohol, rammed his handgun into Phelan’s eye and pulled the trigger, the prosecution had argued.
Handing down his decision on Wednesday, Justice Barrett said he had been presented with two startlingly different perspectives of how Phelan had died. But the officer’s account of his revolver being removed surreptitiously from its holster was particularly hard to believe, Barrett said.
He had been presented with two portraits of Richard Molloy through letters of support from family and friends, two images that mirrored the conflicting accounts in the trial. One picture of Molloy was a loving father , a patriot, a police officer who had made a positive contribution to the city.
But he said there was another Richard Molloy, one who was vioent and irresponsible. Ultimately he had taken the life of another man and the sentence would have to reflect the nature of the violent conduct.