Murphy sentenced to 7 to 15 years in prisonPublished 1:09pm Monday, December 19, 2011
Leon Murphy is only 18 years old but Berrien County Trial Court Judge Scott Schofield said he committed a grown man crime.
Schofield then handed down a “man’s punishment” — a seven- to 15-year prison term — at Murphy’s sentencing Monday at the South Berrien County Courthouse.
Murphy, one of five Niles teenagers involved in a sex video extortion scandal, pleaded guilty to third degree criminal sexual conduct in May. As part of the plea bargain, he had two counts of first degree CSC and a count of extortion dropped.
Assistant Prosecutor Steve Pierangeli credited Murphy for admitting to the crime and being “cooperative” with authorities but said the teen doesn’t understand the serious nature of the crimes he committed.
“This was a game or a joke to him. He did it to get back at her,” Pierangeli said. “This is not a game. It’s a very serious incident.”
Schofield said Murphy was “to a large extent the leader” of the group of young men that taped a 17-year-old girl having sex with one of them without her knowledge and using the video to blackmail her into sexual favors.
Murphy and Martise Washington, who was found guilty on seven charges against him and sentenced to 20 years in prison, sent text messages to the victim in March threatening to post the video onto Facebook if she didn’t perform sex acts on them.
The girl was taken to Murphy’s house where she was forced into sex acts with Murphy, Washington and co-defendant Parnell Martin.
It wasn’t until Murphy’s father entered the room that the defendants agreed to take her home. But that night they drove her around Niles, sexually assaulting her in the car and laughing at her, according to testimony during Washington’s trial.
Defense attorney James Miller argued that the offense variable scoring and sentencing guidelines should have been lowered since the act wasn’t “sadism, torture or excessive brutality.”
“Although the conduct was egregious, it didn’t raise to that level,” Miller argued.
Judge Schofield disagreed and kept the scoring the same, calling the crime a “brutal and heartless rape.”
During his comments, Miller said it was difficult to “fashion any commentary to make sense of the case.”
“I don’t understand why it happened, where the parents were, where the school was,” he said. “There is no silver lining in this case, nothing of value.”
All Miller could argue in defense of his client was his willingness to own up to his mistake. Murphy was the first of the defendants to plead guilty and he was cooperative throughout the process, Miller said, before asking the judge to depart downward from the sentencing guideline range.
“No matter what the sentence, he will have a lifetime of regret,” Miller said.
For his part, Murphy offered remorseful comments, choking back tears.
“I take full responsibility,” he said. “I ask for forgiveness from the court, from (the victim) and my family.”
Schofield said while he appreciates Murphy’s request for forgiveness, he is “not in the forgiveness business but the consequence business.”
Schofield also said the crime wasn’t an isolated incident, as he was also accused of a similar act against another teenage girl, to which he didn’t plead guilty.
But the judge told Murphy his life isn’t over.
“This doesn’t have to be the defining moment in your life. You can recover,” Schofield said.
Murphy left the courtroom shaking his head. He will receive credit for 221 days already served.
Co-defendants Martin, Trey Nichols and Martell Miller have taken plea deals and will be sentenced in January.