Commentary

The injustice of fatal 2010 World Cup trip

Updated: July 7, 2011, 11:58 AM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

It's an eerie coincidence that I talked to Danny Murphy just hours before Casey Anthony was found not guilty of killing her young daughter, Caylee.

I was at an airport when the Anthony verdict was broadcast live. An elderly man shouted expletives. People shook their heads, too stunned to believe what unfolded. A lot of folks walked around with a collective expression that seemed to say, "How could this happen?"

[+] EnlargeMurphy accident
Murphy FamilyThe Murphys, from left to right: Lauren, Brian, Danielle, Nicole, Kellie, Lucas.

What do you do with the burning, unsettling sense of unfairness and injustice?

If you have a reasonable answer, Murphy would like to know what it is, because he's been coping with those same feelings since the man who was accused of killing his daughter and causing his son severe brain damage while they attended last summer's World Cup was acquitted of culpable homicide on June 27 in a South African court.

"Probably more angry than hollow," Danny said. "They made a joke of it."

"They," according to Danny, include the prosecutor assigned to his family's case, whom Danny is convinced didn't do his job adequately. "They" would also be 22-year-old Kyle MacDonald -- the driver who slammed into Danny's children as they walked home from a concert and then fled the scene -- and his girlfriend Jeanine van der Merwe, who initially lied to police and told them she was driving MacDonald's vehicle at the time of the accident.

It's doubtful either one of them will do any serious jail time. And realistically, they may not do any at all.

Yes, how could this happen?

The World Cup trip was supposed to create a loving memory and a deeper bond for the Murphys, a soccer-loving family from Lafayette, La.

Danny's daughter Nicole was a four-year starter at University of Tampa and helped the Spartans win a Division II national championship in 2007. And her sisters, Kellie and Danielle, both play together at LSU.

Danny thought nothing would be more special than taking his girls and son Brian to soccer's biggest spectacle.

Then one night, loving memories changed to an unthinkable reality.

Kellie, Nicole and Brian were walking back to their condo from a nearby concert when MacDonald's 4X4 careened into them. Nicole was killed instantly. Brian suffered a major head injury that left him in an induced coma for almost three weeks. Kellie, thankfully, walked away with just a concussion.

No one knows if MacDonald had been drinking, because he didn't stick around to face the police. The only reason the authorities found him is because the impact of the crash caused his license plate to fall off his car. And when he was arrested and charged, MacDonald's bail was 5,000 rand, or $700.

So much for life being invaluable.

MacDonald was eventually found guilty of three lesser charges: failure to assist an injured person, failure to assess the extent of injuries and unlawfully removing his car from an accident scene. Van der Merwe was convicted of lying to police, which her lawyer told the court was acceptable because the lie was "on the spur of the moment, and made without criminal intent."

[+] EnlargeKyle MacDonald
Getty ImagesKyle MacDonald and Jeanine van der Merwe walk outside the Strand Regional court on June 27 in Cape Town, South Africa.

"They would not even glance at me," said Danny, who was there when the verdict was delivered.

Danny felt helpless. Who could blame him? The defense's theory was that the Murphy children were drunk and stumbled into MacDonald's path, giving him no time to react. According to Danny and media reports, the prosecution didn't present much physical evidence to counter the claim.

"My children weren't breaking any laws," Danny said. "They knew that road. Every morning the two girls that got hit ran on that road. There was no reason to be in the road because they were 30 yards from turning into where we live. There's no walking while intoxicated law. The guy came off the road and hit them."

Making matters worse, assistant prosecutor Thea Stewart reportedly said in court that the case did not merit a prison sentence.

MacDonald and van der Merwe haven't been sentenced yet, but MacDonald could face up to nine years in prison. Danny said he was told by the prosecution that MacDonald will be evaluated to determine if he is even capable of handling jail.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Losing one child and then having normality stolen from another is inconceivable enough.

Knowing no one will ultimately be held responsible for it, is an unimaginable hell.

"I don't know what you can say to people that are as unconscionable as that," Danny said.

Danny quit his job as an emergency room physician to work with Brian full time. His rapid improvement is one of the reasons Danny's anger hasn't become totally unbearable.

Brian is walking on his own, albeit with a limp. He has no recollection of high school or of last summer, but he is making strides with his short-term memory, which his father estimates stretches about 20 minutes -- a vast improvement from where it used to be.

"He wakes up every day and has to be retold everything," his older brother Lucas said.

Ironically, that's what it felt like for Danny and the rest of the Murphy family when MacDonald was found not guilty of killing Nicole.

They were forced to relive their worst moment all over again. Now they have to figure out a way to forget an injustice that will never be made right.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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