Category: Archive

Molloy Trial Opens

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Patrick Markey

Three years after Derry native Hessy Phelan died from a gunshot wound to the head, the New York Police officer accused in his killing appeared in a Bronx State Supreme courthouse Tuesday morning to face charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Laying the foundation for their cases, prosecution and defense attorneys made their opening statements in the non-jury trial that charges Officer Richard Molloy shot and killed Phelan, a 39-year-old housepainter who had left Northern Ireland nine years earlier.

In opening prosecution statements, Assistant District Attorney Brian Sullivan presented a portrait of Molloy as a reckless man with a history of drunken gunplay and who had tried to prevent his actions from coming to light after the shooting.

"This defendant has blood on his hands. This man who plays with guns shot Hessy Phelan," Sullivan said.

Handling the .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver used in the shooting, Sullivan summed up the final hours of Phelan’s life on Jan. 21, 1996, from the bar where he and Molloy were drinking to the sofa where, it is alleged, he was shot to death.

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It would have been impossible for Phelan to pull Molloy’s handgun from its holster as the defense claims, Sullivan said. Holding the black holster Molloy had used, Sullivan aimed to show how difficult it would have been for Phelan, who was inebriated, to pull the weapon out and shoot himself before Molloy would have time to react.

With the defendant sitting to his left, Molloy’s attorney, George Vallario, presented the case as a "Greek tragedy," devastating for both families, but certainly not a criminal issue. Was it suicide or an accident? Vallario asked. That was not known, he said, but there was a need to find someone to blame for such a meaningless act.

Molloy was devastated then and "he is devastated to this day," Vallario said of his client.

For Phelan’s relatives, the start of the trial brought some reprieve from the three-year wait, they said. Four relatives have flown over from Derry for the trial, and they remain cautiously optimistic about the outcome.

"This was not a suicide, it was not an accident," Phelan’s sister Martina Boback said outside the courtroom. Phelan had spoken to his brother in Derry just the day before his death and the two were planning his visit to the U.S. soon, she said.

"Someone as drunk as Hessy could not have done what Molloy says he did," she said.

The case has been dogged by controversy. Following Phelan’s death in January 1996, investigators stated that he had died because of undetermined causes. But after the release of a city medical examiner’s report, which ruled it a homicide, and protests by the Phelan family, the Bronx district attorney indicted Molloy on murder charges.

With no eyewitnesses inside the apartment, prosecutors and defense attorneys have sketched radically different outlines about the final moments of Phelan’s life. Molloy’s defense has always maintained that inside the apartment a despondent Phelan managed to snatch away the officer’s handgun and shoot himself in the head in an apparent suicide.

Anna Phelan, the dead man’s mother, is adamant her son would not have killed himself.

The prosecution agrees. Pointing to the city medical examiner’s report, they say indicates the officer prodded his gun into Phelan’s face, they charge an enraged Molloy fired the fatal shot. From the angle of the entry wound, the prosecution believes that it would have been very difficult for a right-handed person, such as Phelan, to shoot himself through the left eye.

Hoping to discredit theories that the shooting was a suicide or an accident, the prosecution has also pushed for inclusion of evidence they say illustrates a pattern of reckless and abusive behavior on the part of Molloy. The prosecution plans to introduce up to 30 witnesses during the trial.

Molloy is currently on modified duty with the police department, which means he has handed in his badge and service handgun and performs administrative tasks pending a trial decision.

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