Old murder death sentence probed

A CENTURY-OLD mystery over whether the death sentence had ever been carried out on a teenage Grafton boy convicted of the murder of his young mate appears to have been solved.

During History Week last year, The Examiner reported that the fate of a then 17-year-old who was convicted in April 1900 of murdering his teenage friend in a Grafton melon patch was not known.

James Murphy had been found guilty of murdering 15-year-old Cyrus McFarlane but, despite pleas for lenience, was sentenced to death.

Cyrus McFarlane was murdered in Prince Street, Grafton, on February 10, 1900.

Reports at the time said: “Murder at Grafton – The news that a lad named Cyrus McFarlane had been murdered in the north end of the city created a sensation on Sunday. Grafton has been free from a capital offence of this nature for a great number of years, and the fact of an atrocious murder being committed caused considerable consternation among the citizens.”

James Murphy, who at first denied murdering McFarlane, subsequently admitted they were together in the Prince Street melon patch.

He claimed in a coronial inquiry that they had been eating melons when they heard someone coming and ran away and did not see him again after that.

He later confessed to the murder and was sentenced to death.

At the time of publication last year, no record had been found to show that the sentence was carried out.

Cyrus’ great niece, Christine Byrnes, said she had searched for years to find out if the sentence had been carried out and had only recently found he was not hanged as per the sentence.

She said James Murphy was born in 1883.

“There were four James Murphy’s born in 1883 in Cobar, Kiama, Queanbeyan and Tenterfield,” she said.

“There was a James F Murphy born in 1882 at Maclean to James and Elizabeth Mary A. This James died in 1942 at Grafton.

“Could it be the same James? Did he have a chance at some life? I truly hope so.”

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