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Libel Suit Takes Aim at Print Reporter's Words on TV

"When I found out about this two weeks later from my daughter, I drove her straight to the Mansfield police station and filed a complaint," Teri Taylor said. "I told the cops to go pick up McSweeney."

The prosecutor had hoped to put McSweeney in prison for five years -- for the robbery. The charges against him already had been reduced to statutory rape because no force was involved. Even the prosecutor said Murphy wanted to give McSweeney some prison time, maybe a couple of years. But sentencing guidelines allowed a choice only between a full five years for the charge of "masked" robbery, or no prison time at all.

In court, Murphy said: "I myself have five daughters. . . . I understand what a daughter is. . . . I'm not oblivious to these considerations. . . . [But] I know what happens in state's prison when people like Mr. McSweeney show up at 17 years old."

Murphy sentenced McSweeney to eight years' probation.

Prosecutors were incensed and ratcheted up their media campaign. On Feb. 11, the Boston Globe ran a story under the headline "Bristol DA slams judge's bail rulings."

Herald reporter Dave Wedge, too, had received a tip about Murphy's "lenient" record a couple of weeks earlier, according to his deposition. But now two other local papers had run stories, which his editor "pointed out." Wedge quickly spoke with a Bristol district attorney who was a frequent source, according to his deposition.

On Feb. 13, a week after McSweeney was sentenced, the Herald published Wedge's "Murphy's Law" story, saying prosecutors had "confronted" the judge in his chambers over his sentences. At that time, Murphy allegedly said of McSweeney's victim, "Tell her to get over it."

Story Takes Its Toll

Two days later, the Murphy family, including daughters Jessica, 14, and Emily, 10, left for their annual school break vacation at a time share in the Caribbean. "We thought things would blow over," Murphy's wife said.

Instead, they escalated. In the end, the Herald printed 17 stories and columns involving Murphy. Teri Taylor held a news conference with her daughter, the victim, in her back yard and demanded that the judge be fired. She requested an investigation by the Commission on Judicial Conduct. (She said she was later informed that Murphy had been cleared.)

Meanwhile, on WEEI-AM, Herald sports columnist Gerry Callahan, co-host of "Dennis & Callahan," began referring to Murphy as "Easy Ernie" on the popular morning radio show, Murphy's lawyers said. Callahan has not returned phone calls seeking comment.

In St. Maarten, Murphy received a call from his daughter Adrienne. She read him a column in the Feb. 20 Herald by Howie Carr titled "Easy Ernie judges daughter's teasing to be out of order." She faxed him pages from Carr's follow-up Internet chat.

"If there were real justice in this world the 'poor rapist' would go to Easy Ernie's house and rape all of HIS daughters twice," said one. Another typed: "Publish his street address and then tell him to 'get over it.' He's a public employee and the public has the right to know!" And one reader volunteered: "Easy Ernie doesn't reside in Sherborn. Reliable info has him residing in neighboring Dover."

"That was it for me," said Keenan, Murphy's wife. Jessica and Emily were sent back home, where they found police guarding their house. They collected some clothes and schoolbooks. Under police escort, Emily went to stay with their grandmother in Quincy, and Jessica bunked with one of her friends. The girls were told only that too many reporters were hanging around. But reading the newspaper, Jessica learned about the threats. "My mom and dad cried when they told me what was really going on," she said.

The next week, Teri Taylor appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor." Host Bill O'Reilly promised her, "We're going to stay on this story and hopefully we'll get the Massachusetts politicians involved and get this guy, Murphy, off the bench." Meanwhile, Greta Van Susteren of Fox News told her "On the Record" audience, "Judge Murphy advised the girl, 'Get over it.' While she ponders the judge's callous advice, maybe Massachusetts should ponder this: Get rid of him."


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