- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2000

A man being investigated in the slaying of 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett was convicted and sentenced to 90 days in jail yesterday on a charge that he disobeyed a firefighter's orders to evacuate a hotel room where he was staying two days before the killing.

Fairfax County (Va.) General District Court Judge Lorraine Nordlund ruled that Gregory Devon Murphy, 29, intentionally disregarded a firefighter's orders to leave his room on the night of April 17 after firefighters responded to a smoldering mattress fire in his suite.

"He purposefully refused their orders to evacuate," Judge Nordlund said during yesterday's hearing. "I don't know what would have caused his odd behavior, but it did put a lot of people at risk because he prevented fire personnel from doing their job."

Murphy has not been named as a suspect or charged in connection with Kevin's April 19 slaying, but he has been linked by DNA evidence to the cab Kevin's killer used to flee the crime scene.

Murphy also is awaiting a hearing on parole violations in Alexandria for not telling his parole officer of his April 17 arrest in Fairfax County, and missing an appointment with his parole officer.

Murphy was released from state prison on mandatory parole April 7 after serving more than six years for malicious wounding, petty larceny and obstruction of justice.

At yesterday's hearing, Fairfax County firefighter Ronald Swarthout testified that he and his colleague broke into Murphy's room at Homewood Suites Hotel in Baileys Crossroads about 4:45 a.m. April 17 after they saw smoke and water flowing from the hotel suite.

Mr. Swarthout told the judge the firefighters went into Murphy's room wearing breathing masks to make sure no one was inside and to locate the source of the smoke. After walking through the "smoke-filled" suite, they found Murphy in the bathroom taking a shower, and a mattress smoldering in the bedroom.

The smoke had become so intense in the bedroom that the sprinkler system had triggered before firefighters got there, Mr. Swarthout testified.

"We repeatedly said to him he needed to leave the room," Mr. Swarthout told the judge as Murphy, wearing a green jail jumpsuit, sat in the defendant's booth and listened to testimony. "But he said he wasn't going anywhere and shouted some obscenities at us."

After Murphy got out of the shower and walked into the bedroom, the firefighters repeated their orders, and again Murphy refused.

"He was just standing there in the smoke, under the sprinklers and told us the same thing," Mr. Swarthout testified.

That's when firefighters called police, who later arrested Murphy on the misdemeanor charge. Police also charged Murphy with cocaine possession, but a judge last week dismissed the felony charge after finding that prosecutors did not prove that the cocaine belonged to Murphy. But on Monday, a Fairfax County grand jury indicted Murphy on the drug charge.

Murphy's attorney, public defender Vansea Antoun, argued yesterday that Murphy did not intentionally defy the firefighters' orders. "He truly did not appreciate what was going on," Ms. Antoun said. "He did not seem to have a grasp of what was going on around him."

But prosecutor James Plowman argued that Murphy knowingly resisted the orders. "He was basically walking through a rainstorm in his hotel suite," Mr. Plowman said.

Judge Nordlund ruled that Murphy's behavior prevented firefighters from locating the source of the smoke and as a result could have put authorities and other hotel occupants at risk of being hurt.

"He was asked five or six times to leave," the judge said. "This is a purposeful refusal on his part."

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