By Miriam Murphy, P1 Contributor
Today, November 20, 2018, Mr. David Burns will walk out of prison a free man. He has served 13 of the 15 years he was sentenced for attempted murder on Lt. Phil Murphy, back in April 2005. Lt. Murphy and Sgt. Barry Nielsen were attempting to arrest David Burns during a domestic violence call in Orem, Utah. Domestic violence situations are some of the most dangerous and deadly calls police officers respond to
I want to clarify the fact that Phil and I are at peace with Mr. Burns being released from prison. He has served his time, and it is now up to him to choose his own path.
I am the wife of Lt. Murphy, a police officer who came very close to losing his own life while protecting a total stranger – a pregnant woman – from being abused by her boyfriend.
This isn’t about the usual “victim” that comes to mind when talking about domestic violence. It’s about the ripple effect that occurs when police officers, who courageously come to the aid of those being abused, risk their own lives during these volatile and heated situations.
At the beginning of our marriage, I decided the only way I could stay sane would be to never allow myself to think about the dangers Phil faced when he walked out the door to go to work. I can’t tell you how many times I watched as he strapped on his bullet proof vest, donned his uniform and attached his duty belt – equipped with his gun and all the standard police equipment; never once imagining that that very weapon would be the gun David Burns would use to shoot my husband.
I always told myself, “nothing will ever happen to him…”
The following comments are my own. As you will see, my emotions are very raw.
Here is my letter to the parole board in May of this year:
To begin with, I want to focus on the 13 years of LIFE Phil Murphy was blessed to live after being shot and nearly killed by David Burns on April 17, 2005.
It’s not very often I allow myself to dwell on what life would be like without Phil Murphy in it. I can tell you, Mr. Burns, that if you had succeeded in taking Phil’s life that day, it would have shattered not only my life and my children’s lives, but you would have been responsible for taking one of the best men I have ever known from this world.
Your selfish and cowardly actions that day would have prevented him from being here on this earth with me and my family. If you had succeeded in murdering Phil Murphy in cold blood, he would have missed out on the opportunity to touch and influence thousands of lives doing the job he loved so dearly.
Had circumstances gone differently that day, Lt. Murphy wouldn’t have been alive to help the following people in the two, true stories I’m going to share with you today.
A mother awakens one morning to find her three-month old baby girl is lifeless and not breathing. Sometime during the night, her precious baby has died – most likely from SIDS. Lt. Murphy is the first one on the scene. The grief-stricken mother frantically puts the baby in Lt. Murphy’s arms and begs him to save her. Although he knows there is nothing he can do to bring the baby back, Lt. Murphy performs CPR until the paramedics arrive. In his kind, calm and soothing manner, Lt. Murphy gently persuades the mother to let go of her child and allow the paramedics to take her baby. After tearfully letting go, she clings to Lt. Murphy and sobs. Even though he wasn’t able to save her child that day, Lt. Murphy was there! He was alive and able to give comfort and support to this devastated mother.
A sleep-deprived mother is driving home from an after-hours clinic with her sick toddler. The child has been ill for several days, and she hasn’t had much sleep. She dozes off and her van drifts into oncoming traffic, hitting a UTA bus head on. The mother is killed instantly and the child is critically injured.
A man arrives at the scene a few minutes later and is wandering around the van frantically asking where his wife and child are. Lt. Murphy realizes he must be the husband and father to the woman and toddler. He gently pulls him aside and tells him that his wife has passed away, his son is badly injured and was transported by ambulance. He offers to give the man a ride to the hospital where his wife and son have been taken.
The man is in shock and asks if he can use Lt. Murphy’s cell phone to call his wife’s parents. It is quiet in the car and Phil can’t help but overhear the conversation as the man informs his in-law’s that their daughter is dead. He listens to each call the man makes to family members, overhearing the screams of anguish and pain when they hear the news.
At the hospital, the man has to identify his wife’s dead body, then is told his son is in critical condition and needs to be flown by Life Flight to SLC. He asks Phil if he will help him pray for his son. After they pray together, Life Flight takes off. The man turns to Phil and thanks him, then he looks him in the eye and tearfully says, “Go home and hug your wife and kids and tell them that you love them. My wife and I were arguing today because we were both exhausted, and I didn’t tell her I loved her before she left.”
That night when Phil got home, he hugged me for a long time, then told me he loved me. I watched as he went into our children’s rooms and took each one of them into his arms, tears streaming down his face as he held them tight.
I know in my heart, and there is no doubt in my mind, that God intentionally saved Lt. Phil Murphy’s life that day, so he would be the one to comfort and help those specific people and thousands of others during those 13 years he was blessed to live.
I’m not saying Phil Murphy is the only compassionate and caring police officer during these types of situations, but I am saying that there is an innate kindness and compassion inside Phil Murphy’s very soul.
I don’t feel the need to recount everything that happened during the domestic violence call involving David Burns, but I do want to remind the Parole Board why he ended up here today in prison. Simply put, David Burns lost his temper that afternoon and strangled his pregnant girlfriend, then he attempted to murder Lt. Phil Murphy.
Had David Burns simply complied and cooperated with Sgt. Nielsen and Lt. Murphy, he would have been arrested and been given basically a slap on the wrist.
Later, while being interviewed, Mr. Burns told detectives he believed that if he shot an officer, he could get away. So, Mr. Burns, you were willing to murder possibly two innocent police officers, who were there to protect your pregnant girlfriend, so that you could avoid a misdemeanor and get away?
I want you to know that the ONLY reason you are alive today is because it was Phil Murphy who responded to that call. If it had been another officer with less experience and training, you would most likely be dead.
Phil and Sgt. Nielsen showed remarkable restraint and discipline during that fight with you. There were many times they would have been completely justified in shooting you.
I’ve often said that had you shot and killed Phil, I guarantee you wouldn’t have let Sgt. Nielsen just walk away. There’s no doubt in my mind that you would’ve turned the gun on Barry and shot him, too. The fact that there could have been two officers lying dead on that lawn makes my blood run cold when I think about it.
What kind of person lets their anger get so out of control that it clouds their judgment to the point where taking someone else’s life is the easiest way out? I will never understand that type of warped, evil thinking.
I will admit to the Parole Board and to you, Mr. Burns, if Phil had died that day while trying to protect your innocent, pregnant girlfriend from being abused by you, you would have felt the wrath of GOD reign down on your head like never before. I would have felt profound hatred toward you, and I know it would have been extremely difficult to forgive you during this lifetime. I have been taught my entire life that it’s better to forgive. However, I have always believed that certain crimes committed against another human being can be so heinous, that it may take into the next lifetime to forgive.
If you will recall, during your initial sentencing before the Judge, back in 2005, Phil and I were able to stand and say that we forgave you. I believe that forgiveness sets your soul free and releases the weight of harboring anger and hatred. However, that being said, I also feel that forgiveness shouldn’t be on someone else’s timeline. It’s up to each individual person to come to a point in their life where they can forgive. Also, forgiveness isn’t forgetting. We will never forget. Your actions that day are entwined and embedded in our lives. The physical scars have healed, but the emotional scars will never completely go away.
Your sweet mother and sister were there at your sentencing and tearfully apologized for your actions. My heart ached for your mother. I couldn’t imagine having my son try to take another human being’s life.
For some reason, this hearing has brought to the surface many unresolved feelings in me. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to feel and express all the anger and resentment I have felt, especially when I watch Phil struggle with Survivor’s guilt–wondering why he’s alive and other officers aren’t. Each time an officer is killed in the line of duty, I watch him relive that day over and over again in his mind, questioning why he was saved, and other’s weren’t.
I’ve listened as he tells me horrible nightmares he’s experienced through the years. But the worst part is the fact that Phil suffers in silence the majority of the time. He tries to shield us from the pain he’s feeling, but there are times we can see it in his eyes.
My daughter experienced extreme anxiety every time her dad put his uniform on and left the house to go to work. My son is a lot like his father – very sensitive and good to his core. I know he internalized the trauma of knowing how close he came to being without his dad.
But the person whom your actions damaged the most, in my opinion, is Sgt. Barry Nielsen. He experienced far more trauma during the shooting than Phil. He watched his fellow officer, whom he loved and respected, fall to the ground – his uniform soaking and dripping with blood, and truly believed Phil was dying. I know because of this traumatic and devastating incident, it was one of the reasons Officer Nielsen eventually lost his job as a police officer. I hold you, Mr. Burns, personally responsible for that. He went through hell that day.
The only way you can ever begin to pay restitution to the people you made suffer from your grievous actions, is to do something productive with your life and NEVER, EVER again put anyone through hell like you did my family and Sgt. Nielsen’s family.
If you haven’t learned to control your temper and your anger, I have no doubt whatsoever that you will get into an altercation, the police will be called, and you will take the selfish and cowardly way out again by murdering innocent people. If you do, I promise that I will be there at your trial to support your victims and their families and make certain you never get out of prison again.
I had a strong desire to go back and finish my degree a few years ago. I’m proud to say I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.
I’ve done a lot of research and written several papers about men and women who choose to make law enforcement their careers. Quite frankly, in the anti-police climate we’re living in today of, “Don’t tell me what to do,” and “I don’t have to do what you say,” I’m shocked that anyone would choose to be a cop.
Each time Phil, or I, learn of an officer who has abused his power and authority, we are sickened, saddened, angered and embarrassed. Contrary to what the media portrays, abuse of power within law enforcement isn’t “the norm,” and is not condoned by police officers. No cop leaves their house in the morning with the intention and hope of killing someone; but by protecting and serving each one of us, they put their own lives at risk every single day.
Personally, I don’t believe prison reforms criminals. I don’t have the answers about how we as a society can reform anyone. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide whether they want to put forth the hard work it takes to change. How much effort have YOU put into changing, Mr. Burns? Are you “reformed?” Can you walk out of prison today and do something useful with your life? Believe it or not, my family and I pray that you will. It is out of our hands now and up to you to make the most of your life. Please don’t waste it on anger and violence.
Since 2005, the year David Burns shot and nearly killed my husband, approximately 2,079 police officers have been killed in the line of duty. To say that I am eternally grateful that Lt. Phil Murphy wasn’t the 2,080th officer to be among those tragically high statistics, doesn’t begin to express how thankful I am to God, each and every day, for sparing his life.
In June 2014, Phil retired from police work after 30 years of dedicated and honorable service.
During the past 13 years, Phil was here to see his son and daughter graduate from high school, attend and graduate college, support his son on an LDS mission, and watch each of them marry wonderful people. Perhaps his greatest joy has been the birth of his two, beautiful grandsons. They love playing with “papa,” and he thoroughly enjoys every moment he’s been blessed to be a part of their lives.
I honor, respect and salute our men and women in blue. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for being willing to work 365 days per year, 24/7, early mornings, swings and graveyard shifts. Thank you for doing a job that doesn’t pay well and requires many of you to work part time jobs in order to survive. Thank you for being first responders to some of the most horrific and tragic situations that no one should have to witness. Thank you for doing a job that sometimes doesn’t earn you the respect and gratitude you deserve; where you are scrutinized and critiqued over and over again for having to make split-second, life or death decisions. Until those who criticize and condemn you walk a mile in your shoes, they will never know what it’s like to be a cop. May God bless and keep you safe!
Domestic violence resources UDVC Domestic Violence Help Hotline Call: 1-800-897-LINK (5465) YWCA Women in Jeopardy program: 801-537-8600 Utah’s statewide child abuse and neglect hotline: 1-855-323-DCFS (3237) National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 City of Orem, Victim Advocate: 801-229-7128