EATON —The driver of a semi who was indicted on charges related to a traffic crash which claimed the lives of a Camden family last year was found incompetent to stand trial on Wednesday, July 25.
According to Prosecutor Martin Votel, the Preble County Common Pleas Court found Brian Murphy incompetent to stand trial in the deaths of the Hudson family, who perished in an automobile collision on Sept. 12, 2017, in Camden.
“Accordingly, the criminal charges against Mr. Murphy have been dismissed as required by law,” Votel said in a press release on Wednesday.
On Sept. 12, 2017, Murphy was driving a semi-tractor/trailer heading southbound on U.S. 127 when he ran the red light at the intersection of Ohio 725. The truck collided with a Jeep Cherokee driven by Melissa Hudson, who was lawfully proceeding east on Ohio 725. Mrs. Hudson’s husband, Schon Hudson, was in the back seat of the vehicle with the couple’s three-year-old daughter Emerie.
Mrs. Hudson was pregnant with the couple’s second child at the time of the crash.
“Tragically, all members of the Hudson family perished in the accident,” Votel recapped. “Mr. Murphy’s tractor capsized in the crash and he suffered severe head trauma with resulting brain injury.”
The investigation of the crash was coordinated by the Camden Police Department, the Preble County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Upon conclusion of the investigation, the case was presented by Votel to the January 2018 meeting of the Preble County grand jury. The grand jury returned a 12-count criminal indictment again Murphy. At the time of indictment, Murphy’s medical condition, including his mental capacity, was largely unknown to law enforcement, according to Votel.
“By law a defendant must be ‘competent’ to stand trial for a criminal case to lawfully proceed,” Votel explained. “‘Competency’ means that the defendant must, at the very least, possess a basic understanding of the criminal charges pending against him, a basic understanding of the criminal process and of the parties involved in such process, and an ability to assist in his/her own defense. In the present case, Mr. Murphy’s attorney, John D. Smith, filed a motion placing the defendant’s competency to stand trial at issue. The basis for the motion was the severe brain trauma suffered by the defendant in the accident.
“As required by section 2945.37, et seq. of the Revised Code, the Court of Common Pleas ordered the defendant to undergo a competency evaluation,” Votel continued. “The initial evaluation was conducted by Forensic Psychologist Dr. Jennifer O’Donnell of the Forensic Evaluation Service Center in Hamilton. Dr. O’Donnell evaluated Mr. Murphy and opined that he was not competent to stand trial, and further, that he was incapable of being restored to competency due to his brain injuries and the manner in which his brain had failed to recover from the trauma.”
“The State of Ohio, by and through the Prosecuting Attorney, moved the court for permission to get a second opinion regarding the issue of competence,” Votel noted. “This motion was granted over defense objection. The state retained the services of Dr. Thomas Sullivan of Fairfield, Ohio, a forensic neuropsychologist specializing in brain trauma and neurological recovery. Dr. Sullivan evaluated Mr. Murphy and concurred with Dr. O’Donnell’s methods and her conclusions: he concluded that Mr. Murphy was incompetent to stand trial and that the nature and severity of his brain injuries would prevent him from being restored to competency in the future.”
“Section 2947.38 of the Revised Code addresses the implications of competency in the criminal venue,” Votel said. “The statute specifies that if a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial and is not restorable to competence within one year, the court ‘shall order the discharge of the defendant…’ This means that the criminal charges against the defendant must be dismissed. Although the State of Ohio does, under some circumstances, retain the discretion to file a petition for involuntary civil commitment in probate court upon dismissal of charges, such circumstances do not apply in the present case.”
On Wednesday, July 25, a hearing was held in Preble County Common Pleas Court regarding Murphy’s competence to stand trial. The court, after considering the uncontested opinions of the two independent expert evaluations, found Murphy was incompetent to stand trial, and further, he was not restorable to competence within the time provided by law, according to Votel.
“There was no evidence contrary to these expert opinions. Accordingly, as required by law, the court ordered dismissal of the indictment against Brian Murphy. As a result, the criminal case against Brian Murphy will not and cannot proceed as a matter of law. This ruling will not affect any civil case or cause of action the victims’ next-of-kin may pursue,” Votel said.
“The families of Schon and Melissa Hudson have the sincerest sympathies, prayers, and best wishes of this office and of the entire Preble County community,” Votel said. “It was appropriate that the results of this investigation be presented to the grand jury, and appropriate that the grand jury hand down a felony indictment based upon probable cause. But our constitutions, both state and federal, prohibit the state from moving forward with criminal charges against a defendant who cannot understand what is transpiring and cannot assist in his own criminal defense.
“Two independent and eminently qualified psychologists have agreed that such is the case with Mr. Brian Murphy, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. The profound and irreversible brain damage suffered by Mr. Murphy in the crash has effectively rendered him incompetent to stand trial. Under such circumstances, the law commands that the court discharge the defendant and dismiss all pending charges. It is my sincere hope that this result does not add to the heartbreak of our victims’ families, and that they are able to find solace in each other, in our community, and in the knowledge that the criminal case was pursued vigorously to the extent permitted by law,” he added.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.