Cops kill Maspeth man they called deranged

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Residents of a quiet street in Maspeth were stunned Saturday morning by the sound of bullets as police shot and killed a deranged man they said had attacked his mother and threatened to shoot responding officers.

James Murphy, 43 of 73-36 53rd Ave. was shot by five police officers during an arrest attempt, which residents claimed made the block look like a scene from "High Noon."

Detective Carolyn Chew said Murphy was shot seven times in the chest and taken to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:17 a.m.

But while initial police reports said Murphy had fired at police, no shells were ever found and police later said Murphy's handgun was incapable of firing.

According to published reports, Deputy Chief Thomas Fahey said although the gun could not fire police were still justified in shooting Murphy.

Mary de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Queens district attorney's office, said the DA conducts an investigation whenever the police shoot a suspect regardless of whether or not the suspect dies.

"We had people on the scene on Saturday, but we have yet to conclude our investigation," said de Bourbon.

Chew said neighbors called 911 at 9:20 a.m. when they saw Murphy punching his mother Dorothy, 70, in the middle of the street.

Witnesses said neighbor Michael Koto helped Dorothy Murphy of the street and brought her into his house. Soon after she was taken to St. John's Queens Hospital, where she was listed in stable condition and suffering from severe facial trauma.

Police arrived at the scene at 9:28 a.m. and quickly blocked both ends of 53rd Avenue at 73rd Street and 74th Street. Police Officer Valerie St. Rose said when police arrived, Murphy was armed with a handgun, a 12-inch kitchen knife, and he had slashed one of his wrists.

St. Rose initially said Murphy ran toward 73rd Street and fired four shots at the officers blocking off that street, but no one was hit. But the police account was revised late in the day to say that Murphy had not fired shots.

Neighbor Frank Connolly said he was in his backyard, heard four loud booms and rushed to his front window to see what was happening. Connolly said he knew Murphy owned a World War II-era German handgun, which makes a much louder noise than contemporary handguns.

Connolly said Murphy then turned around and started walking toward the other end of the block. Connolly said he called out to Murphy, but he did not respond.

"He was in a stupor, he was staring straight ahead," Connolly said.

The source of the four loud booms had not been determined as of press time.

He said Murphy put down his knife and his jacket and continued toward police on 74th Street with his gun. Police said they asked Murphy to drop the gun three times, and when he began to raise the gun, five police opened fire.

"He was committing suicide. What else did he expect to happen when he raised the gun?" Connolly said.

Murphy's father was out shopping during the whole episode and when he returned, both his son and wife had already been taken to the hospital.

An employee at the Edward's Supermarket across the street said a chaotic stampede occurred in the store after the gunfire erupted. The employee, who did not wish to be identified, said Murphy often came into the store and would yell nonsense.

He also said Murphy often sought a job with the supermarket but was never hired.

Connolly described Murphy as a nice guy whose life underwent a downward spiral of depression.

Murphy worked for many years as a laborer at the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, said Capt. John Jochmans, the assistant supervisor of administration for the academy. Connolly said he was fired about a year ago from that job when signs of his mental illness began to show.

According to published reports, Murphy achieved the rank of third class officer in the U.S. Navy before being discharged in 1987.

Connolly said over the past three months Murphy could barely hold a conversation and was rapidly losing weight from not eating. He said Murphy was hospitalized four times in the last three months, but was never kept for psychiatric treatment.

"He didn't need help physically, he needed help mentally," said Connolly.

Connolly wondered why Murphy was not sent to a veterans' hospital, where he would have been eligible for treatment.

He said before being fired Murphy was saving up to bring his girlfriend in Poland to America, but had recently written her a letter calling off the relationship without offering any explanation.

At 6 p.m. Saturday police still had the street blocked off as they gathered evidence. The sidewalk near 74th Street was soaked with blood and bullet holes decorated car windows up and down the block.

Reach reporter Bryan Schwartzman by e-mail at or call 229-0300 ext. 154.

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