Karen Murphy appears in court on felony murder, child neglect charges

Supporters gather in front of the courthouse. (Photo: John Lewis/ABC7)

About a dozen people gathered outside the Prince William County courthouse Friday to show their support for the woman charged with murder after forgetting her child in a hot car.

“We are here to support Doctor Karen Murphy we love her very much,” said Michelle Vitulli, a co-worker.

Last month, Murphy, a veterinarian, left her 2-year-old son Ryan in her minivan for seven hours while she worked at an animal hospital. She apparently didn’t realize she had left the child strapped in his car seat until she got home from work.

“This was a tragic accident and not a crime,” said her attorney, Edward MacMahon.

On Friday, Murphy appeared in court. She faces felony murder and neglect charges in connection with her son’s death. Her attorney believes the loss of her son, and the guilt she will carry for the rest of her life, is enough punishment.

“What she needs is to be supported and loved by the people who know and care for her and who know what a wonderful mother she is,” MacMahon said.

But last January, she left Ryan in the same minivan outside the veterinary clinic until his daycare called asking about him.

Prosecutor Paul Ebert says Murphy’s prior behavior is a factor in the charges.

“I can't run my office based on public opinion,” he said. “I've got a lot of emails. There was a demonstration, but I am sure the court will do the right thing.”

At the courthouse Friday, not everyone expressed sympathy for Murphy. Some say leaving a child in a hot car to die can’t be characterized as a mere accident.