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Castle Rock mother guilty of smothering children to death

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — A Castle Rock mother was found guilty Tuesday of smothering her two children to death with a pillow.

Kelli Murphy’s defense team asked the jury to consider a lighter charge for their client, who confessed to smothering her two children to death in May of 2011. The Douglas County jury chose to ignore that plea, finding Murphy guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree murder by a person in a position of trust.

Judge Vincent White immediately sentenced Murphy to two consecutive terms of life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors said Murphy killed her children, Liam, 9, and Madigan, 6, by smothering them at her Castle Rock home. Liam would have been 11 today.

Murphy and her husband were in the middle of a divorce and Murphy had said she was adamant about retaining sole custody of the children. In fact, the day the children were killed, Murphy was due in court to arrange a joint custody agreement.

Eric Murphy’s family released a statement after the verdict was read.

“This is a sad day for us. We would have preferred to be celebrating Liam’s 11th birthday today. Instead, we would just like to offer our since sincere thanks to everyone involved in this case,” the statement said. “Although nothing can make up for the loss of Liam and Madigan or fill the void that is left by their absence, we are thankful that this chapter is now over and we look to God to help lighten our hearts.”

That verdict was returned a little more than an hour after closing arguments were delivered by Murphy’s attorney, Ara Ohanian, and Douglas County prosecutor Jay Willford.

Continuing to insist that the act of killing her children was calculated and deliberate, Willford began by referencing what he called Murphy’s need for control.

He said it began when her husband, Eric Murphy, asked for a divorce.

“She (Murphy) is bent on control — over her children and over the divorce,” Willford said during the trial. “She said, ‘I want 100 percent of the kids and 100 percent of your salary.’ It’s Kelli’s way or no way.

“Eric was about to take that control away.”

Ohanian continued to offer his portrayal of Kelli as a devoted and caring mother who was unraveling emotionally.

“Her behavior throughout the house mirrored her mental state,” Ohanian said, referencing the fact that divorce papers were scattered on a kitchen island and a camcorder had been haphazardly setup for recording. “She was confused. She felt alone.”

A key sticking point throughout the trial was whether or not Kelli Murphy blacked out before smothering her children with a pillow.

While Ohanian insisted the blackout was real, and was a result of a mixture of vodka and sleeping pills, Willford asked the jury to consider that the only substance found in Kelli Murphy’s system shortly after her children were killed was Benadryl.

“This is a homicidal blackout, and we call it a magical blackout,” Willford said.

Each attorney also presented an emotional plea to the jury of 10 men and four women, with Ohanian urging jurors to check their feelings at the door when considering a verdict.

“This is an extremely tragic event, but you must keep your emotions out of this,” Ohanian said. “Moms don’t kill their kids. She did. That speaks volumes to her emotional state.”

Willford, on the other hand, urged jurors to consider the emotional nature of the crime of suffocation.

“This is a close, personal death,” Willford said. “The manner of death speaks volumes to her intent.”

After the verdict Castle Rock Police Chief stated: “Justice was served today for two young children – Liam and Madigan. It was a team effort, and I want to commend the partnership between Castle Rock Police, the 18th Judicial District and Colorado Bureau of Investigations. From the beginning, we all made a commitment to Liam and Madigan to find justice, and today that commitment was met.”