Stephane Murphey: Such a long wait, so little justice

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Tribune Columnist
May 17, 2006

pictureThe record of Stephane Murphey's violent death seven years ago is kept in a cardboard box on top of a file cabinet in the Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety's tiny Records Department.

Of all the Rio Rancho homicides investigated over the years - and there aren't that many - hers is the only one that has accumulated so much paperwork it cannot be contained in a single file.

Hence, the box.

Inside are detective notes, forensic details, a copy of a report done by a private investigator hired by Murphey's family and gruesome autopsy photos of the 37-year-old woman that still haunt me and would surely cause anyone who views them to shudder at the depravity that compelled such evil.

Regardless of what the box holds, the man accused of strangling her with her own stretch pants and stuffing her in the back seat of her car April 15, 1999, was never going to get the lengthy sentence you might have imagined for such a disturbing crime.

Bound by the laws in effect at the time of her death and by a fairly sweet plea agreement, state District Judge George Eichwald sentenced David Bologh on Tuesday to 21 years in prison - the maximum penalty.

Let's do the math.

Subtract the credit for the nearly four years he has already spent in jail. Now consider that Murphey was killed just three months before the demise of the "good time" law that slashed prison stays in half.

Sum total: Bologh, 41, could be free in little more than eight years.

Eight years. Nearly how long it has been since Murphey's slaying.

Your criminal justice system at work, folks.

Here was a man who authorities say broke into the home of Murphey, a young woman who by all accounts was kind and law-abiding.

Authorities say he likely tried to sexually assault her, hitched her nightgown over her head like a death hood, then strangled her, packed her like luggage into her car and drove around for days while her body decomposed, masking the odor with Lysol Tub and Tile Cleaner.

If that doesn't give you nightmares, I don't know what will.

So much went wrong.

Because what the box on the filing cabinet does not contain is what could have been discovered in the crucial first hours of the case had not an ego-addled turf war flared up between Rio Rancho and Albuquerque police detectives.

Albuquerque police, who have more homicide experience because we city folk are so much more adept at killing each other, took the case first because Murphey's body was found in her Chevy Sprint at the Warren Coronado Apartments at I-40 and San Pedro Drive Northeast in Albuquerque.

Rio Rancho police, which hadn't immediately snapped to the notion that Murphey was more than a missing person or the victim of a robbery, muscled in when they figured out she must have been killed at her home in their city's North Hills subdivision.

What the box does not contain are tests never performed early on in the case, interviews never conducted. Had that happened, detectives might have learned that Bologh, a man with a long, violent criminal history, was living two doors down from Murphey.

What the box does not contain are the reasons the first Rio Rancho investigator was kicked off the case (see above paragraph) and the case reassigned to an earnest but inexperienced homicide detective, who had to educate himself as he went along.

What the box does not contain is how Murphey's sister effectively nabbed Bologh in May 2002 by directing the detective to test for DNA on a towel found in the Sprint and under Murphey's fingernail - all which matched Bologh's DNA.

Sure, the box holds the transcript of Bologh's jailhouse interview with detectives in which he offered a key concession. But the interview was later tossed because a judge ruled detectives had not properly obtained Bologh's consent to proceed under his Miranda rights.

In the box are hints of the many delays in the case, including the appeal prompted by the judge's Miranda ruling, the departure of at least two defense attorneys and the arrogant foot-dragging by lead prosecutor Joe Arite.

Through it all, Murphey's family and friends, most of whom traveled here from out of state, have remained gracious while they grasped for some understanding as to why such a beautiful and bright woman could be so brutalized both by a bloodless killer and a bungling judicial system.

"No family should ever be put in this position," Murphey's mother, Carol Murphey, tearfully said.

Bologh, however, said nothing Tuesday. No admission, no apology, just a new excuse provided by his father (David is a paranoid schizophrenic off his meds - where have we heard that one?) and a bizarre bit of praise from his attorney, Jeff Buckels. (David is a good guy because he took a plea and brought this case to an end.)

Bologh had indeed pleaded in March to second-degree murder, aggravated burglary, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and tampering with evidence.

But it was a "no contest" plea, which allowed Bologh to maintain a pale facade of innocence and deny the Murphey family meaningful redress, all while receiving the same consequence as a guilty plea would have brought.

What the box, what every box in the state, does not include is the shame of such a system that forced them - and us - to wait this long for such a small morsel of justice.

If that doesn't give you nightmares, I don't know what will.