News & Politics

NYC’s Toughest Judge Cites ‘Reefer Madness,’ Rosaries While Sentencing 20-Year-Old for Murder

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The toughest judge in Manhattan Criminal Court lived up to his reputation on Friday afternoon.

Just days after the Daily News ran a story about Judge Edward Jude McLaughlin’s “soft side,” McLaughlin sentenced twenty-year-old Taylonn Murphy Jr. to fifty years to life in prison for the 2011 murder of Walter “Recc” Sumter.

McLaughlin had been excoriated by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio after showing leniency to a felon in a rehab program who wound up killing NYPD Officer Randolph Holder. The Daily News report focused on a case in which he allowed a gun trafficker to remain out of jail until after his birthday.

Speaking to Murphy from the bench on Friday, McLaughlin gave a long, rambling tirade; McLaughlin invoked the phrase reefer madness before expounding on marijuana use and addiction, and criticized what Murphy wore during his trial.

“Why’d you wear your two rosaries visibly?” the judge asked, before suggesting that the members of the jury may have seen them as “sacrilegious violations of their observances.”

“You don’t seem to think too well,” McLaughlin added.

The judge continued, “In one day, there were thirteen people here for your trial. I don’t understand the thought process. I hope they visit you in prison but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

That’s the real McLaughlin.

A Voice investigation published in the fall reviewed hundreds of cases that came before him and showed how McLaughlin earned his nickname, “the hanging judge.”

“It’s his last hurrah,” Murphy’s father, Taylonn Sr., said of McLaughlin, who by law must retire at age seventy this year. “The judge knows my son didn’t get a fair trial, but he’s still imposing a harsh sentence — even though, deep down, he knows.”

 

Prosecutors presented no physical evidence, such as DNA traces or the murder weapon, at Murphy’s trial, but social media played a key role in their case.

Murphy’s sister, high school basketball star Tayshana Murphy, was shot to death in the Grant Houses in 2011.

Sumter had mocked Tayshana’s death in an online video. Taylonn, then sixteen, posted “Dead on sight beef” in reply. Two weeks later, Sumter was slain.

Murphy was one of the 103 young men arrested in the 2014 raid of Harlem’s Manhattanville and Grant housing projects. Young residents of the two complexes had been feuding for years, and the raid was billed as the “largest gang bust in New York City.” While most of those arrested in the raid took plea deals, Murphy maintained his innocence and took his chances with a jury.

Two months ago Murphy was convicted of conspiracy, assault, and second-degree murder.

At Murphy’s sentencing, Walter Sumter, Walter Sumter Jr.’s father, read his victim impact statement in a voice choked with tears: “We are compelled to forgive you. We pray for you and your family. Our family is not the only one suffering from the violence.”

Taylonn Murphy Jr. then spoke, offering his condolences to Sumter’s family, but maintaining his innocence.

“I may not know what it is like to lose a son, but I know what it is like to lose a sibling. I am innocent. To my family and friends — I appreciate the love and support. The fight is not over. I’m innocent.”

While Murphy’s case is one of the last related to the 2014 raid to be resolved, no one interviewed connected with the Manhattanville and Grant houses believes this is an end to anything.

“What’s been resolved?” says Murphy Sr. “Nothing. We still have lack of opportunities, a lack of direction, and a continuation of the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Outside the courthouse, Murphy Sr. told his son’s supporters, “Don’t lose hope.”

“One thing that I want you guys to take from what the judge said, he said a lot of you guys won’t be there for him in a matter of a couple of years. It’s up to us to prove him wrong.”