CANTON - A bridge painter from Niagara Falls was told he was likely headed to prison if he was unable to pay his own way to enter a substance abuse treatment program.
St. Lawrence County Court Judge Jerome J. Richards agreed to postpone sentencing for Gilbert B. Murdoch, 41, of 465 7th St., Niagara Falls, for a felony driving while intoxicated conviction until Sept. 5.
The county court judge said Murdoch was headed to state prison if he moved forward with sentencing Monday.
“Here’s the deal. The court will provide a mandated referral to treatment. If he can find a way to pay for it, he can potentially earn a way out of state prison,” Judge Richards said.
The Buffalo-area man who had five prior drinking and driving convictions was charged with a felony count of driving while intoxicated in the early morning hours of May 1, 2013 following a traffic stop on the Leslie Road.
Massena-based state police said they stopped Murdoch’s vehicle after observing him drive through a steady red light before stopping in an intersection and then crossing the double solid center yellow line.
Court documents said Murdoch failed field sobriety tests and blew a 0.19 percent at the scene of the traffic stop. He refused to take the breathalyzer test when he was taken to the Massena state police station. They said Murdoch was also in possession of a baggie containing approximately 4 grams of marijuana.
Murdoch had previously been convicted of felony DWI on Jan. 30, 1997, and his last drinking and driving count was a snowmobiling while intoxicated conviction on Jan. 27, 2013 in Salamanca Town Court.
Murdoch had been released under the supervision of the probation department after pleading guilty to the latest felony DWI count on May 16.
But he was picked up on a bench warrant July 22 and jailed after the probation department informed the court Murdoch had tested positive for cocaine use on June 18. Probation officials said Murdoch repeatedly denied using cocaine. He had also been jailed in August 2013 after testing positive for marijuana and cocaine use.
St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Joshua Haberkornhalm had urged the court to sentence Murdoch to prison time.
“He has multiple DWI convictions. He simply is not doing what he is supposed to be doing, so he is a danger to those on our roads,” he said.
Defense attorney Peter Dumas had asked the court to go out on a limb and give Murdoch one more chance, noting his client was willing to enter outpatient or inpatient treatment programs. He acknowledged his client’s criminal record was filled with arrests all rooted in his substance abuse issues.
“He’s not driving now. He is not on the roads anymore. I know Gil is looking to do better. He doesn’t want to go to prison. Substance is our black plague. I think it is something that can be overcome in Gil’s case. I’m just asking the court to give Gil that chance. He is a hard worker, and he was a hard player too. That brings him here,” Mr. Dumas said.
Judge Richards said it was clear Murdoch needed long-term inpatient substance abuse treatment. He noted Murdoch reportedly told probation officials during his pre-sentence interview that he had used cocaine once while he was on pre-trial release because he believed he would be given another chance.
The county court judge said it was unfortunate Murdoch’s insurance carrier had denied coverage for his placement in a long-term inpatient program.
“You have a tremendously bad criminal history. You are a danger. I think the insurance companies in this country are being allowed to tacitly contribute to our drug problem. How they can determine you are not qualified to have inpatient treatment because you have not gone through their graduated step process is wrong. It is a travesty,” Judge Richards said.
“It leaves me no choice. My obligation is to protect to the people in this county and this state. I refuse to allow the insurance companies to do a disservice to the people of this county,” he said.
He pointed to Murdoch’s record of eight arrests and five convictions for drinking and driving.
“You cannot drink. You cannot party. When you do, you get foolish and get behind the wheel. The statistics show your eight arrests for drinking and driving mean you have driven intoxicated hundreds of times. Mr. Murdoch needs long-term treatment, not just 28 days. I’m not willing to take a chance with him,” Judge Richards added.
He said he would adjourn sentencing for a month to see if Murdoch could find a way to pay for his own treatment, a bill he acknowledged could be in the $35,000 range. Mr. Dumas said he would also contact his insurance provider in an effort to convince them to cover Murdoch’s care.
by Ryne R. Martin
August 6, 2014