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Investigators describe 'strange' marriage that preceded murder

From the September crime report: Former lawmaker arrested, murder trial, stabbing sentencing and more series

BURLEY — A decision whether to bind a Cassia County murder case against Jimmy Lee Murphy over to district court was delayed Thursday after the judge and members of the public heard more than seven hours of testimony during a preliminary hearing.

When court convened during the morning session, Murphy’s attorney, Timothy Schneider, asked that the public and testifying officers be barred from the hearing to prevent contaminating a jury and possibly not giving Murphy a fair trial.

Cassia County Prosecutor McCord Larsen argued that a good system had been put in place to screen jurors during a recent high profile case.

Cassia County Magistrate Judge Blaine Cannon denied the request to ban the public, including the press and Whitney’s family, but allowed the motion to exclude testifying officers from the courtroom prior to their testimony.

Murphy, who was allowed to appear in court dressed in street clothing, is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of his wife, Whitney Murphy, 26, on Oct. 26, 2014, and with attempted murder of a neighbor whose basement bedroom window was shot on the same night.

Cannon listened to testimony from the county coroner, who described how Whitney was shot with a 12-gauge shotgun, first in the arm, then in the shoulder and finally, fatally in the head.

Cassia County Detective Jason Rogers described how the home was in disarray. “It looked like someone tried to make it look like a burglary occurred,” Rogers said.

The only item missing from the home was Murphy’s shotgun, he said, which was never found.

Whitney’s purse was in plain sight of the murder scene and a safe with money inside had not been taken.

A farm manager also testified that the farm office was “ransacked” with drawers pulled out, but nothing appeared to be missing.

Nearby neighbors, Levi Bodily and his girlfriend Maria Ramirez, both testified about the shotgun blasts that came through their window as the couple laid in bed.

Maria said Murphy had been in their basement bedroom while he was at their home during a tornado warning and knew the layout of the room, something few people knew.

Rogers said two types of shotgun shells that matched shells at the crime scene were also found in the backseat of Murphy’s pickup.

When Murphy was interviewed at the sheriff’s office, Rogers said, Murphy told police he’d been home alone most of the day, had gone out hunting doves, which explained the gunpowder residue on his hands and that he went to check a pivot and wash mud from the undercarriage of his truck prior to finding police officers at his house.

FBI Special Agent Ryan O’Neil said he’d examined hundreds of pages of texts from Whitney’s phone and many of them were her asking her husband’s permission to do something that a spouse wouldn’t have to normally ask about, like going to yard sales or having lunch with her parents. Often, he said, Murphy told his wife no.

“There were a lot of those and for me, I thought it was strange,” O’Neil said.

Often he said, Whitney would try to be affectionate or romantic via text with Murphy and he seemed “disinterested” or gave a cold response.

Murphy had also taken out a life insurance policy on Whitney.

Schneider objected to Larsen’s questioning several times, including a time he argued O’Neil was not qualified to characterize the Murphy’s marriage. Cannon sustained that objection.

After asking court staff to stay after hours to finish the testimony, Cannon said the closing arguments would be scheduled on another day and he needed time to review all the evidence before making a decision.

The hearing will resume at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

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