BLUE HILL — A Hancock County jury Tuesday found former Blue Hill Treasurer Jody Murphy not guilty of theft.
Ellsworth attorney Maxwell Coolidge represented Murphy, 39.
“The jury has spoken and justice has been served,” Coolidge said via email. “It was a fair trial. Ms. Murphy and I are grateful to the jury for its careful deliberation.”
Murphy had been indicted last August on one count of Class B theft — accused of stealing $17,960 from the town between October 2016 and March 2017.
Murphy resigned from the town of Blue Hill Nov. 16, 2017. She now resides in Massachusetts.
The trial lasted one day.
In his closing argument, Coolidge successfully argued that the state did not provide any evidence directly tying his client to the town’s missing money.
“At some point, the town’s practice was to get that money to the bank,” Coolidge said. “We know the usual way was Miss Murphy took it. What we don’t have evidence of here is Miss. Murphy was the last person seen with that money.”
In Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon’s opening statement, he said as treasurer, Murphy had “an array of responsibilities.”
“She was the person who took cash and checks over to the bank on behalf of the town,” Toffolon said. “It’s the state’s contention that on four occasions, Miss Murphy brought the checks to the bank and deposited them but kept the cash for herself.”
“She was responsible for telling the payroll service how much to pay each employee,” Toffolon said. “The state contends on five occasions she over-reported her earnings so she received more than she should have.”
The alleged over-reporting of payroll was discovered by Blue Hill’s new treasurer, Rebecca Wilber, after Murphy resigned, according to court testimony.
Town Clerk and Tax Collector Etta Perkins, who has worked for the town in that capacity for 25 years, helped Selectman Jim Schatz clean out Murphy’s desk after she resigned.
The pair testified they found deposit slips for cash in Murphy’s desk. Those slips were submitted as evidence to the jury.
Toffolon questioned Schatz about a sexual harassment complaint that Murphy had told the town she was filing against the Board of Selectmen around the time the financial discrepancies were uncovered.
“The sexual harassment complaint named all of the selectmen?” Toffolon asked.
“I believe it did, but it focused on one,” Schatz said.
Toffolon asked about a meeting that the selectmen had with Murphy and her then attorney John K. Hamer of the Bangor firm Rudman Winchell to discuss accounting discrepancies.
“At one meeting with her attorney, we were told the sexual harassment complaint would go away if we would not pursue the theft charges,” Schatz testified.
Justice Bruce C. Mallonee, who presided over the trial, told the jury to disregard Schatz’s statement.
Testimony for the prosecution included Ron Bean, a CPA with Ellsworth accounting firm James Wadman, who had discovered the irregularities in the town of Blue Hill’s accounting.
Coolidge did not call any witnesses.
“All that can be said is the cash can be unaccounted for,” Coolidge told the jury. “All we’re talking about is the practice of the town.”
“I would submit to you these documents don’t add up,” Coolidge said. “This doesn’t add up to theft. This adds up to poor accounting practice. This adds up to poor training. This adds up to a mistake.”
District Attorney Matt Foster said his office was “surprised” by the verdict.
“We felt that the case was a strong case,” Foster said. “That is what the jury process is for, though, so while we are disappointed with the outcome, we did our part in presenting the case to the jury and they felt that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed by Ms. Murphy.”