THE MAN CHARGED with fatally stabbing 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett knocked one of his attorneys unconscious with a vicious punch yesterday during a hearing in an Alexandria, Va., courtroom.
Without saying a word, Gregory Devon Murphy, 29, stood up at the conclusion of the hearing and unleashed a left cross on attorney Jonathan Shapiro, sending his glasses and the papers in his hands flying.
Mr. Shapiro crumpled, hitting the back of his head on a wooden gate a deputy was opening as he ran to the front of the courtroom.
"Go down," fellow lawyer Joseph Bowman told him. Both were appointed last week to represent Murphy.
With his eyes rolled back in his head and a bright-red mark on the side of his face, Mr. Shapiro fell to the carpet unconscious. Five deputy sheriffs descended on Murphy and wrestled him to the ground. One deputy threatened to use Mace to subdue Murphy as the officers piled on top of him.
"Oh, Lord have mercy! Why do they have to treat him this way? Don't hurt my baby!" Murphy's aunt screamed out from the back of the courtroom.The room was immediately cleared and within minutes, three Alexandria paramedics rushed in carrying medical bags and a gurney. Circuit Court Judge Alfred Swersky remained, shaking his head in disbelief, as paramedics assessed Mr. Shapiro's condition.
He was then carried away on the gurney through a back door of the courthouse and taken by ambulance to Inova Alexandria Hospital, where he was admitted to the emergency room in good condition. He was discharged several hours later.
Last night, Mr. Shapiro, who suffered a concussion, told The Washington Times he felt "terrific" and has no memory of the attack. He also said he will continue to represent Murphy unless the judge rules otherwise.
"I am firmly committed to representing Mr. Murphy in this case," Mr. Shapiro said.
After the attack, Murphy was escorted downstairs, where paramedics evaluated him. Murphy suffered a rug burn on his forehead but declined any medical treatment before returning to the Fairfax County jail, where he is awaiting a Nov. 7 trial on a drug possession charge.
Alexandria Sheriff James H. Dunning, who oversees courthouse security, said last night that Murphy did not wear handcuffs or leg restraints when he attended yesterday's hearing.
"We did have additional security in the courtroom, but no one can anticipate an assault like this," Sheriff Dunning said.
He also praised his officers for their quick response.
"The deputies did outstanding work. They used immediate and sufficient force to subdue him without any further injuries," he said.
Sheriff Dunning said restraints might not have stopped Murphy from punching Mr. Shapiro. "He didn't have to move too far to take the shot he did," the sheriff said.
From now on, though, Murphy will wear handcuffs and leg restraints when appearing in court. There also will be additional deputies assigned to the courtroom where Murphy will be scheduled to appear, the sheriff said.
Judge Swersky also is expected to order Murphy to undergo a mental health evaluation before any more hearings are scheduled in the case, according to Mr. Bowman. He added that such evaluations are typical for defendants in capital murder cases, and not a result of yesterday's attack.
Murphy, who is black, has accused Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Bowman, both white, of being racist and asked the judge to appoint two female lawyers - one black and one white - to defend him. The judge declined.
Murphy appeared to be calm during yesterday's proceeding, shaking hands with Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Bowman when he was escorted by deputies to the defendant's table. He then spoke briefly to Mr. Shapiro, who sat in the middle, before Judge Swersky entered the courtroom.
Yesterday's hearing was to set a date for Murphy's murder trial. He faces the death penalty if convicted. He is accused of stabbing Kevin April 19 while the boy was playing with other children in front of his great-grandparents' home in Alexandria's Del Ray section.
Murphy sat quietly as he listened to Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel ask the judge to set the case for Feb. 5, to which Mr. Shapiro agreed.
Murphy remained calm when Mr. Shapiro told the judge that the complexity of the case may lead him and Mr. Bowman to ask for continuances. The judge then rejected Murphy's request for a private meeting, saying, "It would simply be improper to meet with you on a private basis." Moments later, after the judge concluded the hearing, Murphy attacked Mr. Shapiro.
The attack buzzed through the courthouse as word spread.
"It was incredible," said one lawyer who did not want to be identified. "It was pretty scary."
Said Mr. Sengel: "I can't remember anyone ever being knocked out before, but this kind of thing has happened before. I don't know what's going to happen now. We'll just have to wait and see."
He also said assault charges against Murphy are under consideration.
"Clearly that's the least of this guy's problems at this point," Mr. Sengel said.
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