By Patrick Markey
More than two and a half years after Northern Irish immigrant Patrick “Hessy” Phelan died from a gunshot wound in a New York apartment, the Bronx District Attorney’s office has set a trial date for the man accused of his murder, former New York Police Officer Richard Molloy.
Facing charges of second-degree murder, Molloy will go to trial on Sept. 14, according to Assistant District Attorney Brian Sullivan, one of the attorney’s prosecuting the Phelan case.
Phelan, a Derry native, died on the night of Jan. 20 1996 in a Bronx apartment from a single gunshot fired from Molloy’s service weapon. Molloy’s defense claims a drunken Phelan grabbed the officer’s weapon from the holster and shot himself in the head. Bronx prosecutors charge that the positioning of the wound proves Molloy fired the fatal shot.
For Phelan’s family, the trial date is a step forward in what has been an arduous wait.
“We are all very happy that something is happening at last, and that we’ll have our day in court,” Phelan’s sister, Martina Boback, said by telephone from her Connecticut home. “We know in our hearts that Hessy was killed.”
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According to the officer’s defense team, Molloy, who was stationed with the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx, had tried to stop Phelan from shooting himself after the Derry man had been drinking at a local bar.
But prosecutors have painted a different picture of Phelan’s last moments. They charged that after the two men argued, Molloy prodded his weapon into the left inner corner of Phelan’s eye, and pulled the trigger, killing him.
Since the shooting, the case has been swamped in controversy. Shortly after the incident, Molloy reactivated his U.S. Army Reserve status, traveled to a Georgia army base and waited for a transfer to Europe, court records revealed. Molloy was eventually ordered back to New York before he received his transfer papers.
Later, after Molloy was indicted on murder charges, in April 1997, New York State judge Lawrence Tonetti dismissed the case, citing a lack of evidence of Molloy’s reckless conduct. But in November of that year, an Appellate Division panel reinstated the charges.
Before immigrating to the United States eight years ago, Phelan had spent almost 10 years in the Maze prison in the 1970s and ’80s for his involvement in the Irish National Liberation Army.