We were having a lot of arguments then," he said. "As to why she did it … her description was too graphic for her not to have been abused."
He believes, as his daughter would say years later, that she was targeting him for something that had happened months earlier, when she was living with her mother and her mother's boyfriend in Iowa -- before Murphy won a custody battle and took Julie and her sister, Stephanie, then 7, back to Yadkin County.
The case rested solely on Julie's words. No investigation, for example, was ever done of the mother's boyfriend, who months earlier had been found to have physically abused both girls.
Murphy wound up receiving three life sentences and three three-year sentences to be served concurrently.
After his conviction, Murphy began an appeals process. In 1990, the state Court of Appeals reversed his conviction on one count of first-degree sex offense for insufficient evidence. As the years went by, though, he ran out of appeals on the other convictions.
It was Julie Murphy's statement to a Yadkin prosecutor in 2002 that gave him hope.
She had sworn to the fact that she lied when she accused her father, and now said that it had been her mother's boyfriend who had sexually abused her.
Murphy had been in prison for 15 years when his motion for appropriate relief came before Superior Court Judge Melzer A. Morgan Jr. in 2004.
The only issue was Julie's recantation.
The prosecution made its case by presenting testimony from a psychologist who theorized that Julie suffered from "child sex abuse accommodation syndrome," one of whose key symptoms is denial. In short, the theory was that her recantation as an adult was a form of denial that she had been sexually abused or that her father did it. Under the theory, her new statement also represented an effort by her to restore a family relationship.
Richard McAnulty, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at UNC Charlotte, said he believes that the child-sex-abuse accommodation syndrome cited was a concept more in vogue in the late 1980s and early '90s, when hysteria about sex abuse at day-care centers nationwide led to some false allegations. One such case occurred in January 1989 at the Little Rascals Day Care Center in Edenton, where several people were accused, only to later see prosecutors drop all charges.
The child-sex-abuse accommodation syndrome is fraught with difficulties, both conceptual and empirical, said Stephen Ceci, a professor of developmental psychology at Cornell University who studies the accuracy of children's courtroom testimony in cases of physical and sexual abuse.
Some parts of child-sex-abuse accommodation syndrome are reasonably well supported by science, such as the idea that abused individuals often delay disclosing their abuse for very long periods.
In the Murphy case, the syndrome probably is of little relevance because Julie made a disclosure and then substituted another perpetrator, Ceci said.
"This is not to say she wasn't abused, or even abused by her father in the manner she alleged, but merely that there is no scientific basis for deciding which of her myriad assertions should be believed and which should not," he said.
"In such a situation, there is no magic bullet as far as science is concerned," he said. "The court must judge the case on its assessment of Julie's credibility, not on some presumed lurking underlying syndrome, especially one of dubious validity."
On April 7, 2004, Morgan denied Murphy's motion for appropriate relief, in effect deciding that Julie Murphy's statement as a 10-year-old was more credible than her assertion as an adult.
Yadkin County District Attorney Tom Horner said he believes that justice was done.
"Obviously, the evidence was heard by both sides.... Judge Morgan is as thorough a jurist as I ever tried in front of," Horner said. "Over time, obviously, you have issues with different motivations coming into play potentially. I think the judge factored all that in."
Murphy remains at Albemarle Correctional Institution, where he has been eligible for parole since January.
Julie's younger sister, Stephanie, was adopted separately from Julie. She eventually changed her name to Torrie Root.
Today, Root, who lives in Asheville, has a daughter of her own and works for a company that puts together trade shows. She said she remembers nothing about the weekend in January 1989 when Julie alleges that the abuse occurred.
She said she doesn't believe that her father did anything to Julie. She did say she and her sister were physically abused by their mother's boyfriend.
"I honestly have blocked out our horrible childhood only because of the stuff that happened in Iowa with our mother," Root said.
For years, the sisters were estranged; Root said there was a good reason why they were not adopted together.
"Even to this day, Julie still has her own set of issues,'' Root said. "A lot of it stems from her needing and wanting to be the center of attention."
Indeed, in the years after her father's conviction, Julie Murphy was placed in several foster homes, only to have families ask that she be removed or to run away. She assaulted one foster parent.
She said she told social workers that she lied about her father abusing her long before her 2002 statement.
One such report was documented by Sherry Brock, a Yadkin County social worker, in November 1991, just two years after Larry Murphy went to prison.
"She tells lies to an extreme that we are not exactly sure to what degree the sexual abuse from her biological father occurred," Brock wrote.
What witnesses remember
The legal system is set up to assume that when a jury hears a case, it does so when events are freshest in witnesses' minds.
It shouldn't be easy to bring these cases back, said Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, a former prosecutor in Durham who is now the executive director of the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission.
"Of course, you don't want to just be able to throw out what a jury has heard," Montgomery-Blinn said. "If there's new evidence, maybe the jury's decision would have been different if they would have had this evidence."
Recantations are tough, though, because they raise so many questions, Montgomery-Blinn said.
What are the other motives behind a recantation? Is the victim's memory better now? Were they so young when making an initial statement that they really didn't remember? Or could they have gotten things confused? Or deliberately lied to punish someone, as children sometimes do?
They might even have been telling the truth both times, she said.
"Something happens to you when you're very young, as time goes on your memory does change. It means literally they are both trying to get the truth out both times."
In a recent interview, Julie Murphy said from her home in Jasper, Ala., that she has memories from a very young age of getting in bed with her mother and her mother's boyfriend in Iowa in 1988. And things would happen to her, she said. She would be touched and rubbed, she said.
At the time, she said, her mother had her call the boyfriend "Daddy." Neither Julie's mother nor her former boyfriend could be located for this story. Neither sister has had contact with their mother in at least 10 years, and they said they don't know where she is.
Julie said she had nightmares about the abuse while she was at her father's house after he was awarded custody in 1988. The nightmares were so real that she thought the abuse was still happening, she said, which is why said made the allegations about her father. That's what she had figured out by 2002 when she wrote the letter to the Yadkin County district attorney's office recanting her allegations against her father, she said.
At the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commision, a state agency established in August 2006 to investigate claims of innocence, about 425 prisoners have applied to have their cases reviewed, and 123 cases are in review. About 21 percent of those who apply are child-sex-abuse offenders, second only to those convicted of murder.
One of the two cases the commission has reviewed, and which led to a court hearing, involved a child-sex case in which a victim recanted. The hearing did not result in a verdict being overturned, Montgomery-Blinn said. But the former Greenville police officer who was convicted is pursuing a motion for appropriate relief based on newly discovered evidence, and the defense also is claiming ineffective counsel.
"Usually, with child-sex-abuse cases, the child says this happened, the adult says this didn't happen," Montgomery-Blinn said. "There's not a lot of physical evidence because the child doesn't come forward right away. It's our hardest one to look at."
Larry Murphy's case is not unusual, Montgomery-Blinn said. Cases such as this, in which another person is later accused, are as frequent as those in which defendants or victims claim there was never any abuse.
What is different about the Murphy case, Montgomery-Blinn acknowledged, is that the victim is leading the way.
Julie Murphy contacted the innocence inquiry commission about her father's case after Morgan denied her father's motion for appropriate relief in 2004. The commission declined to consider the case.
Mongomery-Blinn said that despite the daughter's stance, there was nothing new for the commission to consider beyond what Morgan had already ruled on, which is its criteria for considering whether to take a case.
Working on the case
These days, Julie Murphy has made working on her father's case a top priority.
She is on disability and is being treated for bipolar disorder and depression, but she spends much of her time keeping family members up to date about her father's parole eligibility.
She knows that even if the state paroles her father, he'll never have his full freedom.
"He'll be a registered sex offender the rest of his life," she said. "No matter what, he still has love and his eyes still twinkle. I also cry, too, because it's bittersweet."
Interviewed at Albemarle, Murphy said life in prison has been tough, especially when other inmates find out he's a convicted sex offender.
"I don't make it a secret. I don't have secrets," he said. He's had death threats, he said, but never been physically attacked.
He is now in a geriatric program, which means that he lives and works around other inmates who are 55 and older. They play games and do some arts and crafts. He reads a lot of military-history books and Tom Clancy novels in his spare time.
He has begun to think about how he will resume his life if he wins parole. He's engaged to a woman named Rose Mary Engel, whom he met in 1993 while she was visiting a family member at the prison.
Engel said she and her first husband, David "Tiny" Engel, believed that Murphy was innocent from the first time they talked. David Engel began to write Murphy letters, believing they could help by being his friend. When David Engel died in 2005, Rose Mary Engel continued writing to Murphy. A deeper friendship developed, then love.
"I never expected it," Engel said.
She said she knows that if Murphy is paroled, he will be a registered sex offender, but the thought doesn't bother her because she believes in his innocence. She already has June 6 as a wedding date if he is paroled, because both of their parents were married on that date. And she hopes for them to live at her home near Asheboro.
It was Engel who, after developing the friendship with Murphy, eventually got in touch with both of his daughters. She used e-mail to keep everyone in the family up to date.
Engel met Julie when she visited her father for the first time in prison in the fall of 2007.
It was an emotional reunion, Larry Murphy said.
"It was easy to recognize her," he said. "She was scared coming in."
They both cried. Julie and Torrie, who also have resumed their relationship and are closer, visit their father every few months, as well as keep in touch with each other.
Murphy said he has forgiven Julie but hasn't made peace with all that has happened.
"You can't change the past. You just have to live with it," Murphy said. "The anger will probably go to spading up a garden."
|False Child Abuse
||Truth in Justice