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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Two Queens cops probed following driver Michael Murphy's fatal beating

Two Queens cops are under investigation for a mysterious road-rage incident in which a 53-year-old man was killed - possibly with a baseball bat, the Daily News has learned.

Michael Murphy, 53, died at Jamaica Hospital April 10, eight days after he was pulled over for driving drunk and hitting off-duty Officer Frankie Soler in the hands and face with a bat, police said.

Soler, who had another off-duty cop in his car, responded in self-defense, knocking Murphy to the ground with a punch to the face, cops said.

A lawyer for Murphy's widow has handed the Queens district attorney's office six witness accounts that described Soler - a wide receiver for the NYPD football team - as the aggressor, flooring Murphy with a sucker punch to the head.

Another witness told an EMS worker at the scene Murphy had been beaten by Soler and his companion, "then batted," said the lawyer, George Stavropoulos.

Murphy regained consciousness at the hospital for a short time, but never spoke again and was placed in a medically induced coma before he died.

The medical examiner declared his death a homicide and said he died of complications from blunt force trauma to the head.

Authorities are still trying to determine if Soler and fellow two-year veteran, Officer Richard Pimental, acted in self-defense - or outside the law.

Murphy's widow, Alane Avallone, has a pending wrongful death suit against the city and the NYPD. She said nothing about that incident should have cost her husband his life.

"If [he was driving drunk] then my husband needed to take responsibility for that action and that error in judgment," said Avallone, 56.

"I have no issue with that, but he didn't deserve to die that night."

Avallone and Stavropoulos met recently with Queens prosecutors handling the case. A spokesman would say only that the case remains under investigation.

Neither Soler nor Pimental, who have remained on full duty since the incident, responded to requests for comment. The NYPD said "there has been no change in the case." The officers have been "fully cooperating" in the investigation, said their lawyer Steven Worth.

Murphy, a father of two from East Meadow, was the son of a retired NYPD lieutenant. He lost his IT job with Citibank some time ago, then was laid off from a job in the mortgage industry before getting a job at a Queens plumbing company.

The night he was pulled over, police said, Murphy drove his Jeep into the back of Soler's Nissan as Soler and Pimental headed to work at the 110th Precinct.

Stavropoulos said there was no visible damage to Murphy's Jeep and that the only reason Murphy didn't pull over right away was because the cops refused to show an ID.

"I am certain he didn't believe they were police officers," Stavropoulos said. He also said Murphy kept a bat in his car because he needed it to whack the car's faulty ignition from time to time.

In the car with Murphy at the time was his boss, Michael Rispoli, who was charged with tampering with evidence for retrieving the bat after it was flung over a fence.

Charges against Rispoli were recently dropped. He could not be reached for comment.

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