The Pryor Times

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April 18, 2013

Kidnapping case goes to jury

A jury was assembled in Mayes County District Court Monday to determine the fate of Dennis Murray who is charged with kidnapping a 13-year-old girl.

Representing the state was Assistant District Attorney Marny Hill, who painted an emotional scene in her opening statement.

She described a young girl walking down the road, a runaway. It was Aug. 7, 2012, and the temperature outside was well over 100 degrees. A car drove by, and seeing the girl, turned around and offered her a ride. Hill described every parent's nightmare as the girl, seeing what appeared to be a nice older man, accepted a ride from the stranger.

“As a hot, frustrated, upset 13-year-old girl, she judged a book by his cover. He didn't look dangerous. She got in the car and he began to make small talk and asked her where she was going,” said Hill.

Hill described Murray making stops, including taking the girl to lunch at Burger King.

“She was not frightened. He was doing things for her, making her feel comfortable. But she soon noticed a difference. He patted her leg, brushed the hair from her face and asked if she had a boyfriend. She said she didn't like the touching and he said he would stop,” said Hill.

Next, Hill said, the girl noticed that Murray missed the turn to take her to Jay, where she had asked to go.

“He then asked her what she was going to give him as payment for giving her a ride. She said she had nothing. She tried to get out of the car and he pulled her back in,” said Hill.

Hill said Murray drove down a dirt road, behind some trees, saying he needed to use the bathroom. The court records state this happened near Highway 412 and Murphy Road.

“He moved as if reaching for his keys, then snatched her. She begins to fight, hitting him. She twisted away and ran for her life toward the road. He chased her as far as the tree line. She tries to flag someone down,” said Hill. “Fortunately someone saw this child on the side of the road and stopped to help her.”

Murray remained stoic through the state's opening statement. He stared straight ahead at the jury.

Defense attorney Jacqueline Rhodes told a different story in her opening statement.

She described the alleged victim as a juvenile runaway, who had recently stayed in a shelter with strangers. She said the girl had run away multiple times.

“Mr. Murray doesn't deny giving her a ride. He had no intentions other than helping this girl out. The state would have you believe he had an ulterior motive,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes explained that the girl had a cell phone in her possession during the alleged abduction. Murray left her alone in the car while running into his place of employment and took her inside Burger King to eat. Rhodes questions why, if the girl was in fear of her life, she did not take those opportunities to escape.

Rhodes said when Murray pulled off the road to relieve himself, like any country boy would do, is when he learned the girl’s age. Rhodes said he panicked and pushed her out of the car.

When the girl took the witness stand, the defense highlighted discrepancies in the girl’s story, saying she testified both that she was from an abusive home and that this was the first time her mother ever hit her. She stated that the alleged touching happened the moment she entered Murray’s vehicle and that it did not happen until after lunch. She testified that he picked her up in Tulsa, just down the street from her school and that she did not exit his vehicle because she did not know where she was. The girl testified that when Murray pulled off Highway 412 she was afraid he was going to leave her there, so she opened the car door to jump out. Rhodes asked why she was afraid of being left there and yet ready to jump out of the car on her own.

“Minutes after you were so afraid you were willing to jump out of a moving vehicle, he left you alone in the car, and you didn't run,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes questioned discrepancies in the alleged altercation that took place before she ran to the highway.

The girl, in jeans and a gray sweatshirt, cried at times throughout her testimony.

A video from a highway patrol vehicle's internal camera was presented as evidence. The video shows the girl minutes after running away from Murray. It shows her both interacting with the trooper and making phone calls and sending text messages on her cell phone.

The trooper describes Murray as “predator-like in nature.”

The girl provided a physical description, saying he was an older, gray-haired male wearing a white “Reno Rodeo” shirt, blue jeans and cowboy hat. She said he told her his name was Dennis and that he lived in Coweta. She also described his vehicle as a small blue Ford car. With that information, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper was able to locate the defendant in the sexual offender registry. Law enforcement went to the address on the registry and took Murray into custody.

On the third day of the trial, the defense called Sammy Fields as a witness. Fields is employed at the Burger King at 161st and Admiral Streets in Tulsa, where Murray took the girl for lunch. Fields said the company has a policy in place in case of emergencies of this nature, but he has never had to deal with a situation. He was working at the time of the incident, nobody came to him for help.

During cross-examination, Hill asked Fields about his previously stated disability. Fields stated he suffers from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety problems and insomnia.

Rhodes called James Carol as a character witness. Carol is a friend and former co-worker of Murray's. Carol described Murray as “a wonderful guy who helps anyone at the drop of a hat,” and said he “is a wonderfully honest man.”

Hill asked if Carol was aware of his criminal record which include failure to register as a sexual offender, peeping tom, sexual battery, grand larceny, and knowingly concealing stolen property. Carol was aware of some of the charges and said the knowledge did not change his opinion of the man.

Faye Baker was also called as a character witness. Murray worked on her family farm for roughly five years. She said he was a “good man in every way.” She described a physically-able employee who would not let anything get in the way of accomplishing a task.

Hill asked if she thought that if Murray set his mind to doing something, like taking a young girl into the woods, he would let things like heat, inconvenience or physical ability stop him. Hill was asked to repeat the question several times as the witness was hesitant to answer. After being prompted by the judge to answer the question as it was asked, Baker said he would not let anything stop him.

Murray remained solemn during the preceding.

The jury began deliberation Wednesday. Hill explained that the possible sentence, if Murray is found guilty, is life without the possibility of parole.

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