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For the week of April 11 through April 17, 2001

Hailey woman sentenced in embezzlement case

Express Staff Writer

Former Hailey Cemetery Maintenance District secretary Donna Rae Murphy was sentenced Monday in Fifth District Court to serve from one to five years in state prison.

Murphy was charged in October with 64 felony counts of grand theft and forgery involving the theft of $57,935 from the district. The thefts occurred between October 1998 and July 2000.

Murphy, 64, pleaded guilty in December to an amended information of two counts of grand theft and two of forgery involving two checks, one for $2,000 and the other for $2,500. As part of the agreement with the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorneyís office, she promised to pay restitution for the full $57,935.

Despite the agreement, Fifth District Judge James May stated during a hearing at the Hailey courthouse on Monday that he considered a prison sentence appropriate. He sentenced Murphy to five years in state prison, with one year fixed, and ordered that she pay $42,935 restitution.

May called reaching a sentencing decision in the case "difficult," but discussed several factors influencing himóMurphyís inability to give any detailed account of how the embezzled funds were spent, her probable inability to repay the money and the length of time she engaged in the thefts.

"I donít know what I did with the money," Murphy told the court. "It must have gone toward bills. I have nothing to show for it."

Her attorney, Jennifer Haemmerle, said the money went to pay medical bills. Murphy reported that she suffers from epilepsy and heart problems.

"Certainly if there were medical bills paid, records could have been found," May said in response. "Itís stretching my credulity to believe that knowing enough to forge the checks and how to get them cashed, she canít remember where it went."

May also expressed skepticism that Murphy would ever be able to repay any significant amount of the money from her income of $528 a month from Social Security. Even Murphyís attorney, Jennifer Haemmerle, acknowledged that "you canít get blood from a turnip."

She suggested a payment plan of $25 or $50 a month over a seven-year probation period.

"Twenty-five or fifty dollars a month wonít even cover interest over the payment schedule," May said.

Board treasurer Kathleen Lovell testified Monday that even though checks forged by Murphy had been uncovered only as far back as October 1998, board members believe her thefts began much earlier. She said Murphy had been employed as clerk since 1993.

Lovell said she found checks made out to Murphy and forged with the signatures of board members when she began drawing up a year 2001 budget last summer. She said that after requesting the districtís books from Murphy, "she finally admitted to me that she had no books." Instead, Lovell said, she delivered three boxes of loose papers from her home in Richfield.

"It was just a total mess," she said.

Haemmerle presented evidence that Murphy had secretly repaid $15,000 to the districtís account before she was caught. May therefore deducted that amount from the $57,935 that Murphy was charged with stealing when computing her restitution payment.

In an interview, county Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas said the state parole board typically considers an inmateís plan to make restitution when making its parole decisions.

"However, if a person simply canít, itís my experience that thatís not going to be the sole reason theyíre left in to do all their time," Thomas said.

Haemmerle acknowledged to the court that full restitution is unlikely.

"More likely than not, your honor, Mrs. Murphy is probably going to be dead before restitution is paid out. Iím certainly not anticipating that Mrs. Murphy will be dying shortly, but her health is not good."



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