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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
State v. Thomas E. Murray, Appeal No. 94,619
January 18, 2008

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.

RE: Appeal No. 94,619: State v. Thomas E. Murray

Even though the evidence was completely circumstantial, the Supreme Court today upheld the Douglas County first-degree murder conviction of Thomas E. Murray, a former Kansas State University English professor, in the November 2003 brutal slaying of his ex-wife.

Murray is serving a life sentence in the bludgeoning/stabbing death of Carmin Ross, whose body was found in her rural Douglas County home by law enforcement officers responding to conduct a welfare check. Murray was not charged in the case until 10 months after her death. Sheriff's deputies were asked to check on Ross' welfare by her fiancée, Larry Lima, who lived in California but had planned to relocate to the Lawrence area to be with Ross.

Murray was convicted of the murder following a four-week jury trial. On appeal, he contended he was denied a fair trial based on prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument, the admission of testimony regarding his silence after being advised of his rights under the Miranda decision, the admission of hearsay statements of the victim regarding her relationship with Murray, cumulative error, and insufficient evidence.

Justice Robert E. Davis, writing for a unanimous Court, said it is "not the place of an appellate court to reassess the weight and credibility of the evidence presented at trial; that assessment is the onus of the jury. Rather, we need only determine whether the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, was sufficient to support the conviction," Justice Davis wrote for the court.

Ross was found lying on the floor in her living room. She suffered 11 lacerations due to blunt force injury followed by 13 stabs in the neck with a knife, as well as defensive wounds on her arms. Detectives believe she had first been bludgeoned and then was stabbed with a knife from her kitchen.

Murray was interviewed for 9 1/2 hours at the Manhattan Police Department the night her body was found, but did not ask how she died until detectives pointed that out about two and a half hours into the interview. Murray said he did not want to know the details.

"Although no one had informed the defendant how Carmin died, he told the police in his interview that he would not have done anything 'like they were suggesting' because he was a 'thinking man.' He explained that if he were going to commit a homicide, he would do it with an airborne poison 'or something really slick.' He later stated that he was 'having fun with this from a CSI perspective,'" Justice Davis wrote.

The Supreme Court determined there was no prosecutorial misconduct in closing arguments, that hearsay statements made to others by the victim were admissible, that brief testimony by a detective concerning Murray's later decision to decline an additional interview was not a reason to reverse the conviction, and that the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict.