- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001


Eight-year-old Kevin Shifflett was an all-American boy who loved to kick a soccer ball onto the school roof during recess, josh with his teachers and wrestle with his friends after school.
Last April 19, at 3:42 p.m., a knife-wielding ex-convict stabbed him to death on the front lawn of his great-grandparents' home in Alexandria, Va.
The boy's body now lies in a well-tended grave in Fairfax County.
His suspected killer, Gregory Devon Murphy, is in a state mental hospital, judged, for now, unfit to stand trial, with a chance of getting away with murder if doctors declare him mentally incompetent to stand trial in May.
Murphy, 29, the man whom a grand jury believes killed Kevin, was a recently paroled convict who developed a hatred for white people over the years, and a belief real or contrived to escape prosecution that he is controlled by a "machine" and the entire East Coast is out to kill him, according to court-ordered psychological reports reviewed by The Washington Times.
How their lives collided is a tangled story of foul-ups in the local probation office, drug addiction and a police composite sketch of Kevin's killer that looked nothing like Murphy. Yet it hung for months on doors of hundreds of area store fronts and was broadcast on national television, while a manhunt for the boy's murderer was under way.
The botched sketch allowed Murphy to slip through the fingers of Fairfax County police, who had him in custody, briefly, on a drug charge. It also misled Alexandria police officers who would have identified a true-to-life composite of Murphy immediately because they had arrested him several times before.
Both Murphy and Kevin grew up in Del Ray, off Commonwealth Avenue, in the western part of Alexandria. Murphy on Hickory Street; Kevin and his family on East Custis Avenue.
Murphy did his growing up in the '70s, when that part of the city was still part of the South. Blacks and whites got along by leaving each other alone.
"He never went off about white people when he was a kid, or even when he was playing on the school teams, so I don't know where or when that 'hate whitey' stuff started," says a black man who grew up with Murphy and remained his friend until their early 20s. "We sort of lost touch."

Fast forward

It is 4 o'clock in the afternoon on Oct. 30, and Kevin has been dead for six months. His mother, Tammy, his dad, Arthur, and his brother and sister are standing before cameras at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Old Town Alexandria to talk publicly for the first time about Kevin's life and death.
Mr. Shifflett wept that day. He talked about how his little boy would have been so proud to have a legal center named in his honor that would help attorneys working on cases involving violent crimes against children, like his son.
"I felt good inside," Mr. Shifflett told reporters at the center as his eyes welled with tears. "And I could see Kevin's face saying 'Dad, this is something good.' "
Minutes later, Kevin's mom and dad removed a black cloth that covered a bronze plaque embossed with their late son's black-and-white school photograph one of his school pictures. It now hangs outside the Kevin Shifflett Legal Center.
It's a picture of a smiling boy, in a dark striped shirt, with chubby cheeks and hair parted on the right side.

M&Ms; are much better

Kev, as he was known among his family and friends, played with Matchbox cars and toy dinosaurs, and collected Pokemon and Power Rangers. Sometimes after school, he played pool with his cousin, Timmy, at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center, some three blocks from his great-grandparents' house, where he was killed.
He had a knack for detail. Just before Christmas, 1999, he built a gingerbread house with all the trimmings: a mailbox, even a house number, says his third-grade teacher, Ruth Brannigan.
Saturday mornings, Kevin's parents took him, his brother, Kenny, 6, and his sister, Kathryn, 12, to the recreation center on Commonwealth Avenue to play with other children.
"He'd race his sister and beat her through the door. And you'd see his bright smile … when the children found out about his death, they were very, very upset," said rec center leader Verdella Jennings.
The center's Mount Vernon Young Performing Artists sang to Kevin's memory during National Night Out in August, a yearly "show of arms" against crime. Kevin's great-grandfather, Thomas Taylor, was there that evening. The name of the song was "Wind Beneath my Wings."
"All the children seemed to know and like Kevin," Mr. Taylor told The Times that night, "and what they did was very nice."
Ms. Brannigan, his teacher, saw Kevin for the last time April 14 the day school let out for spring break. He had just popped a bunch of Jordan almond candies into his mouth.
"Within seconds he had a curious look on his face," Ms. Brannigan wrote in a piece for the neighborhood newspaper. "He walked over to me, smiled through candy-ringed lips and said in his honest little way, 'Ms. Brannigan, no offense, whoever gave you these candies, tell them they are nasty. M&Ms; are much better.' "

The accused

Once a clean-shaven and athletic young man who smiled out to fellow students in the school yearbook, Greg Murphy, at 18, had gained a reputation as a strong-arm neighborhood drug dealer.
He packed a gun and was driven around in a late-model Mercedes-Benz, according to his four-inch-thick criminal file in the Alexandria court clerk's office, and interviews with those who knew him.
By 1992, he pleaded guilty to consensual sodomy in Arlington after prosecutors there agreed to drop a rape and cocaine possession charge against him. Murphy received a suspended three-year sentence.
The youngest of two sons, Murphy grew up in a loving home where both of his parents, Davis and Mae Murphy, worked hard so their children would have the same clothes and toys other children had, neighbors and friends say.
Mrs. Murphy declined to be interviewed for this story.
She nicknamed him "Gay Gay" because he was always laughing, his friends say. The nickname has stayed with him.
He attended George Washington Middle School on Mount Vernon Avenue. By the time he graduated in 1986, he had played on the school's basketball and football teams, proudly displaying his uniforms in team photographs that were taken for his school yearbook that year.
He started using cocaine heavily and then turned to the less-expensive but more addictive crack cocaine. He also contracted syphilis, which went untreated until it was detected by prison medical tests.
By then, the venereal disease already had reached its third and final stage, when it can infect the brain and the heart, according to prison doctors who examined him recently.
It's the same disease that drove mobster Al Capone insane and left him with the mentality of a 12-year-old at his death in 1947.
During his court-ordered mental evaluations on Oct. 24 and 28, Murphy told psychologist William Stejskal, during their two 75-minute sessions, that he has been hooked up to some kind of a government-run "machine" since he was 5.
"His beliefs about the machine seem entrenched and all encompassing," wrote Mr. Stejskal, who works at the University of Virginia. His report, filed in Alexandria Circuit Court in November, concludes Murphy is, for now, incompetent to stand trial for Kevin Shifflett's death.

Stalking the judge

Murphy, who is in a maximum security wing at the Liberty Forensic Unit at Riverside Regional Jail in Hopewell, Va., is obsessed with "The Five," according to his mental evaluation a reference to the 5 and 1/2-year sentence Alexandria Circuit Judge Alfred Swersky imposed on him in 1994 for a crime of malicious wounding.
Judge Swersky is presiding over the Shifflett case. He is one of the few people Murphy sought out after he got out of prison April 7.
Within days, Murphy showed up at the Alexandria Courthouse on King Street looking for Judge Swersky because, he told courthouse staff, the judge promised him $500,000 to compensate him for his wrongful conviction. He had become convinced that a large cash award was being withheld from him as part of a governmental conspiracy.
The courthouse staff turned him away.

Hair-trigger temper

Two days before Kevin's slaying, on April 17, angry racial notes were found in Murphy's nearby hotel room, revealing that somebody most likely a white child was going to die soon.
"Kill them raceess whiate kidd's anyway," read one note scrawled on the back of a Virginia Department of Corrections memo, according to news reports.
On April 19, Murphy put a steak knife in his pocket and began to walk the streets of his neighborhood, looking to vent his anger, investigators believe.
Prosecutors say no one may ever know what led Murphy to grab Kevin from behind, stabbing him 18 times and then slashing his throat.
Murphy hasn't cooperated with attorneys appointed to represent him. He even punched and knocked out one of them, Jonathan Shapiro, during a hearing in October, shortly after Judge Swersky denied Murphy's request to meet with him privately. Mr. Shapiro has since been taken off the case.
Court records show it does not take much to set Murphy off.
On Sept. 18, 1993, a simple glance from a stranger around 4 p.m. at a gas station caused Murphy to attack the man, Leonard Riddle, with a ball-peen hammer he had been carrying around in his pocket that day.
He struck Mr. Riddle again and again, prompting one witness to yell, "My God, he's going to kill him."
Former Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Gary Jeter, now in private practice, prosecuted the Riddle case against Murphy which led to Murphy's 5 and 1/2-year prison sentence.
Mr. Jeter was, and remains, the first prosecutor to ever win a major conviction against Murphy.
"His demeanor was flat [in court] … emotionless. He had no expression on his face," Mr. Jeter says, reflecting on the case in a recent interview with The Times.
He says it was the "strangest [case]" he had prosecuted in his career.
Murphy's own testimony made his attack appear to be more of a pre-emptive strike against a white stranger whom he thought was looking at him funny.
"It happened so fast that I didn't see any other way out but to defend myself … I intentionally took a hammer and hit him," Murphy told Judge Swersky at his March 15, 1994, sentencing hearing.
Why Mr. Riddle? Mr. Jeter still wonders. "Why would anyone walking down the street [attack] another person with whom he had no prior contact?"
A similar question now belongs to Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel why Kevin?

A free man

Murphy was released from prison April 7 in Nottaway, Va., by the state parole board, which denied him parole five times before, the last time on July 29, 1999.
"We simply could not hold him any longer," the board's chairman, James Jenkins, explained last summer. "We had denied parole on other occasions just because of the serious nature of the crime he was convicted of and his disregard of the law."
Murphy reported to the Alexandria Probation and Parole Office April 10, just as he was supposed to under state parole regulations. That is the last anyone there saw him.
His probation officer, Frederick Rockwell, deputy chief of parole and probation in the District 36 office, never once laid eyes on him, a violation of regulations spelled out by the state's Department of Correction, according to information obtained by The Times through a Freedom of Information Act filing.
An unsupervised Murphy didn't stay out of trouble long. A week later, on April 17, he was arrested after Fairfax County police found 0.8 grams of cocaine and 2.6 grams of marijuana stashed in a bag in his Homewood Suites Hotel room, a Baileys Crossroads hotel where he was staying for a couple of nights.
The room began to belch smoke when a lit cigarette he laid on the bed just before he went off to take a shower set his mattress on fire. Fire sprinklers went off and soon firefighters arrived.
Murphy, oblivious to the sprinklers raining down around him, refused to leave. He was arrested, jailed and released on bail that same day.
Still in the room were a collection of writings, found by a clerk, that will figure prominently in his trial, if there is one.

Never going on 9

Kevin would have celebrated his ninth birthday on June 17 and would have started fourth grade at the Mount Vernon Community School last September.
Instead, in August, his parents laid a marble headstone on his grave in the Garden of Hope at Mount Comfort Cemetery. They say they visit him every day to lay down fresh flowers or a few more of his toys on the grass beside the dark gray stone.
As the season turned to winter, a reporter visiting the grave saw a tiny Mr. Potato Head one of Kevin's favorite toys standing beside an engraved inscription that reads "Love You, Kev."
A big plastic purple dinosaur stands guard. A hand-painted wooden cross, signed "Love Mom and Dad," stands next to the headstone, along with two angels and a sculpture of a yellow smiley face.
Two small bright-colored garden banners one featuring Santa Claus and another a snowman flap in the wind. A few feet away is a red stop sign that reads: "Santa Stops Here."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide