Hailey woman sentenced in embezzlement case
By GREG MOORE
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
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
"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
"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