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Teenage hostage-taker pleads guilty, takes deal

Michael B. Murphy thanks the prosecutor for allowing him to stay out of adult prison and apologizes. "I intended to hurt no one," he says.

By BILL VARIAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 1999


INVERNESS -- The lanky, 6-foot-4 blond hardly seemed like the kind of boy who could hold his classmates hostage at knifepoint and tell them he had a bomb.

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Michael B. Murphy's ankles are cuffed Tuesday before he is led out of the courtroom. [Times photo: Steve Hasel]
But with his head down, Michael B. Murphy acknowledged with a whisper that he had and agreed to accept his punishment, raising his left hand initially before Circuit Judge Patricia Thomas suggested, "the other right."

"I'd like to say I'm sorry for what I did and that I intended to hurt no one," said Murphy, 16, about the Oct. 6 incident at Lecanto High School.

With that, Thomas found Murphy guilty of four felony counts, including armed kidnapping, and agreed to a settlement offered by the state attorney's office. The guilty plea by Murphy means the teenager will not have to stand trial in adult court, where he could have faced a life sentence on the armed kidnapping charge.

Instead, Murphy will be turned over to one of four Level 10 juvenile detention centers, reserved for the state's most hardened offenders, where he will serve at least 18 months. In accepting the plea, Thomas agreed to recommend to the state Department of Juvenile Justice that Murphy be sent to Cypress Creek Correctional Facility in Lecanto so that his family can visit.

Thomas directed the teen to thank Assistant State Attorney Jeffery Smith for offering the plea agreement, and he did. She also recommended that he send letters of apology to his school district and to school district officials.

"Do you realize how fortunate you're going to be?" Thomas asked. "I hope you learn from your time at Cypress Creek. What you did may have seemed small from where you're standing but it had a great impact on this whole community."

David Hickey, assistant superintendent for Citrus County schools, read a statement offering acceptance of whatever course the judge took, and supporting continued education and mental health treatment for Murphy.

Murphy's father, also Michael Murphy, and the teen's grandmother, Joan, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters, declining to comment through attorney Joseph Indelicato. But in remarks before the court, the younger Murphy said he understood he was receiving a break, though it means he will lose at least 18 months of freedom.

"I realize that this is good because I realize most 16-year-olds who did what I did normally would go to adult prison," he said.

Indelicato emphasized after the hearing that the plea will allow Murphy to receive psychiatric help if necessary. In fact, the plea agreement mandates that Murphy receive counseling and take any prescribed medication, either orally or through injection.

Indelicato said Murphy suffers from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder, but on the whole is smart and well-meaning.

"He's a good boy, he really is," Indelicato said. "He indicated to me when we first met that he probably was the scaredest person in the room that day."

According to accounts, Murphy stood up in the middle of his 10th-grade English class at Lecanto High with a knife in one hand and a fake bomb in the other.

He ordered his classmates to one side of the room, before saying he didn't want to hurt anyone and allowing the 12 students to leave the classroom. Law enforcement arrived and locked down the complex, evacuating one wing as Murphy's teacher stayed in the classroom, persuading Murphy to turn over his knife. Investigators later learned that two devices Murphy was carrying were not bombs.

A deputy who arrived at the scene said Murphy told him he wanted to chew tobacco, and they did. He also said he wanted to be a pirate, but the deputy couldn't help him there.

Along with the armed kidnapping charge, Murphy also pleaded guilty to making a false bomb threat, planting a hoax bomb and possession of a weapon on school grounds. He has been held since his arrest in a juvenile holding center in Ocala.

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