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“I Wanted to Yell Out, ‘I Know What Happened!’ ”
Comments () | Published November 1, 2008

During a motions hearing in October 2006, a few months after his family hired attorney William Brennan—who has also represented Lee Boyd Malvo, convicted in the 2002 Washington-area sniper case—Murray testified that his confession had been coerced. He described his statement of guilt as “a lie.” Neither Brennan nor Murray responded to requests for an interview.

“They both kept asking me questions, in particular if I knew what happened to white kids when they go to jail, particularly young boys,” Murray said. “They told me that I was going to be raped. . . . I could be killed in jail. They kept telling me: Think about my family, think about my girlfriend.”

The judge postponed a ruling on whether Murray’s confession was admissible. As the court proceedings went on, Brown found Murray harder to figure out—maybe, he says, because life on a cellblock was taking its toll.

“He seemed to develop into somebody I didn’t think he was,” Brown says. “It has to make you wonder: Was that the real him all along, or did he change?”

When Jen looked through the peephole and saw police officers outside her door, she started shaking.

“We’re here about the Daniel Murray case,” one said.

She noticed their guns. Someone asked her to write down everything she remembered. She cried as she wrote. She learned she’d have to appear in front of a grand jury.

Jen was glad it was over—that Scrocca’s parents had answers. But she was scared she’d get in trouble because she hadn’t come forward. She called a friend who was in law school and asked, “Is there anything they can do to me?”

After word got out that other students had known about the fire, Jen shut down her Facebook profile. She went to the student judicial center, where she was told that if her name was in public court documents, there was nothing she could do to stop it from getting out.

“I was afraid somebody was going to come after me,” she says. “One of Michael’s friends or somebody that knew Daniel.”

Soon a Diamondback headline read police: six knew about Murray’s involvement.

“It makes me really mad when I read about what the people who knew must have thought and how they could know for so long and not say anything,” says Jen, who has saved the Diamondback articles about the case.

She says that people think they know what they’d do if they were in her shoes but that “they don’t know what it was like to know. They weren’t there.”

Jen has thought about contacting Scrocca’s parents. But more than two years have passed since Murray’s arrest, and she hasn’t tried to talk with them.

“I don’t know how they’ll react,” she says. “I’m afraid they’ll be angry.”

She does know what she’d say: “How sorry I am.”

There’s a poster hanging in the lobby near Ben Brown’s office at police headquarters that reads SOLVE A CRIME. BE A SUPERHERO. YOUR IDENTITY STAYS SECRET.

As a homicide detective in Prince George’s County, Brown is used to cases where people who know about a crime won’t talk. There are times, he acknowledges, when talking might mean putting their lives on the line.

But this case was different. There weren’t gangs involved. These were college students who weren’t being threatened.

Says Brown: “I asked them, out of my own curiosity, ‘Explain to me how you could keep this a secret.’ The general answer was ‘I just didn’t want to be involved.’ You’d think one of them would have said, ‘You have to tell somebody. This isn’t some stupid drunken story—a life was lost.’ ”

Brown asked Adam if he went back and questioned Murray after hearing him admit he’d set the fire.

“He just never did,” Brown says. “It never came up again. He barely knew him; why would he want to protect him?”

The other guys working at the bar that night did question Murray, Brown says, but when he said he didn’t do it, they turned it into a joke. “Somebody had to have their suspicions,” he says.

Brown doesn’t know where the case would stand today if it hadn’t been for one of Adam’s friends telling someone else. “What’s interesting to me,” he says, “is that $50,000 was out there and not one of them was interested in that, either.”

The woman who called in the tip tried to refuse the reward money—she later told Mary Scrocca she was only doing what anybody should have done—but police convinced her to take the $25,000 from Crimesolvers. She didn’t want anybody knowing her name. Mary has never even told her husband.

Brown couldn’t charge anyone other than Murray with a crime. Adam and his friends were never questioned by police, so they weren’t technically withholding evidence. It’s not against the law in Maryland to have knowledge of a crime and not report it.

“I think people do that in most of the crimes we can’t solve,” says prosecutor John Maloney, now a deputy state’s attorney for Montgomery County.

Mary Scrocca remembers the first time she saw Daniel Murray. It was at a bond hearing in May 2006, soon after his arrest. She and Tony were sitting in a small courtroom waiting for the judge to rule on another case. The back door opened, and the police walked in with a guy in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.

Mary screamed, “Oh, my God!” She’d been told Murray wouldn’t be there that day.

He’s just a skinny kid, she thought.

She’d known for nearly a year that somebody set the fire, and for a while she’d wanted that person dead. Now he was in the same room, and so was his family. Now there were faces.

“There was a part of me, as a mother, that was like, ‘He’s just a kid,’ ” Mary says. “I felt for his parents. I felt for his sister. But I don’t have Michael—and he caused that.”

Mary says Murray’s relatives didn’t react to her hysterics in the courtroom. They stared straight ahead.

At later hearings, she’d see his mother and sister talking and smiling before the judge came in.

“I had to leave the room,” Mary says.

She’d notice Murray turn to his girlfriend and laugh in court. Brian would see him rolling his eyes.

The state’s attorney’s office started listening to Murray’s phone conversations in October 2006, about six months after his arrest.

His parents or his girlfriend would answer the phone and hear this: “You have a collect call from Daniel Murray at the Prince George’s County Correctional Center. This call may be monitored or recorded. To accept the charges for this call, press 1.”

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 11/01/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles