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Calvin Murphy’s extensive family tree — including 14 children he fathered with nine women — came under close scrutiny Friday as the local basketball hero went on trial, accused of molesting five daughters more than a decade ago.
Murphy, a 56-year-old retired Houston Rockets player and former TV commentator, sat silently as prosecutors told jurors that he sexually abused the girls between 1988 and 1991, when they ranged in age from 6 to 13.
He was not married to their mothers, prosecutors said, and he insisted that the girls not acknowledge his paternity publicly while he tried to project a “Cleaver-like lifestyle” and protect his celebrity status.
“These were children who were on the receiving end of their father’s divide-and-conquer ploy,” Assistant District Attorney Lance Long told jurors in his opening statement.
Murphy is charged with three counts each of indecency with a child and aggravated sexual assault. If convicted, he could face a sentence ranging from probation to life in prison.
His attorneys said the allegations stem from a dispute about money and long-standing tension between the children Murphy had with his ex-wife, Vernetta Murphy, and those born to other women, who were pressured to keep their father’s identity a secret.
“This case is not just about money … This case is about resentment,” said defense attorney Andy Drumheller. “This case is about jealousy. This case is about hatred. This case is about revenge on a father who did a disservice to his children by having such an unusual family tree.”
Prosecutors promised to help jurors keep track of Murphy’s children.
“It’s going to be confusing,” Long said. “You are going to need charts. We’re going to help you with family trees and so forth.”
At the start of the investigation, four of the five daughters, all now grown, broke down in tears when interviewed about the alleged sexual abuse, said Texas Rangers Sgt. Andrew Carter, the chief investigator in the case.
One woman broke down in tears at her Houston home and “was unable to talk,” Carter testified. “Uncontrollable, like I’d just completely caught her off-guard.”
The fifth alleged victim initially declined to speak with investigators, but later contacted them and agreed to lodge a complaint, Carter said.
That woman had told authorities in her home state of Connecticut in 1995 that Murphy had sexually abused her, but she later recanted.
Authorities never spoke with Murphy about the complaints, a decision that Murphy’s attorneys said highlighted the one-sided nature of the investigation.
“Pray tell, sir, why, if you were willing to listen to one eyewitness, why weren’t you willing to listen to the other?” defense lawyer Rusty Hardin asked.
Carter, appearing confused, paused before responding.
“I’m not sure I follow,” he said.
“Is there a possibility in your mind that you rushed to judgment?” Hardin asked.
“No,” Carter said.
Murphy was a longtime head of Houston’s Marching Thunder Drill Team, a group of band members and baton twirlers ranging in age from 4 to 18. His attorneys told jurors that he had plenty of opportunity to sexually abuse those children if he was, indeed, a pedophile.
Investigators received no complaints of sexual abuse from any children outside Murphy’s family and did not seek to interview any people involved in Marching Thunder, Carter said.
While the five women who made the complaints knew one another, they have three different mothers and had little contact while growing up, attorneys for both sides say.
Defense attorney Brian Wice, who is not involved in the case but was one of several lawyers observing the trial, said five separate complaints will make it hard for jurors to reject them all as fabrications.
“What bothers me, from a defense standpoint, is the sheer number of complaints,” Wice said. “And there is no nexus between the children. It’s not like they all grew up together and were sitting around talking about what Calvin may have done to them.”
The trial, in the court of state District Judge Michael McSpadden, will resume Monday.
(Posted on November 9, 2004)