As I said last week when the Asheville Citizen-Times reported about the 30-year old charge against Bill Murdock -- this whole story is sad.
Now, CNN has finally published (on its website only) a very lengthy story about the allegation that has followed Murdock for three decades, but was not known to many in the Asheville area.
Bill Murdock has led Eblen Charities, one of western North Carolina's largest nonprofits, for nearly three decades, cultivating a reputation as a humble servant to the poor and a disciple of Mother Teresa.
But a CNN investigation into his background paints a different picture. Murdock was charged with a felony sex crime with a child in 1988 and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in a deal that one prosecutor initially involved in the case now considers an injustice. And he earned prestige with a resume built on exaggerated and dubious achievements.
There is an audio recording that the girl's father secretly made, when he confronted Murdock in a parking lot. On the tape, Murdock denies any physical relationship with the girl, but says there was an "emotional" one that was getting out of hand. He says that's why he broke it off.
In the years since, Murdock has alleged that the girl's mother wanted to have sex with him. When he refused she had her daughter make up a false allegation. Murdock makes no mention of this on the tape (which ends abruptly without explanation).
It seems to me that Murdock appeals to the father's faith in asking forgiveness - while denying he had any physical relationship with his daughter. Later, when the father questions why Murdock is not angry, Murdock sounds like he gets more agitated. Which makes me wonder if he was simply trying to figure out which approach might bear more fruit.
It also seems like the father set Murdock up for failure by presenting his daughter's accusations and then asking, "Are you calling my daughter a liar?" If Murdock was innocent, there was no way for him to respond to this kind of allegation except to say the girl was lying. Murdock - for whatever reason - didn't want to call the man's daughter a liar. And this exchange occurs a few times during the recording.
More broadly, here is my initial assessment of the CNN piece:
- People who want to believe Murdock is a monster will hear it in the audio recording and read it in the story.
- People who want to believe Murdock is a saint will hear it in the audio recording and read it in the story.
- The reporters obviously believe the accuser, and they employ a few literary devices to communicate their views - including direct quotes with stutters which convey a sense of dishonesty. All other quotes are edited for clarity, or delivered flawlessly by the person being quoted (which is unusual).
- I am still perplexed why law enforcement didn't interview Murdock. The story doesn't answer this question.
- The people bringing the story to public light obviously want Murdock to pay somehow. We are not sure exactly how, as they don't name their price. But they do, indeed, seek justice that they believe was deprived the victim three decades ago. Some of these folks don't seem to know what justice would be.
- The reporters want to leave the impression that Murdock may have been enriching himself personally from the Eblen Charities coffers. They don't explicitly state this, but they mention his million-dollar house and his $65,000 annual salary in adjoining sentences. This juxtaposition conveys a sense of incredibility that is about as subtle as a whack in the face with a two-by-four.
- Because of this article, I don't see how Eblen can avoid doing a forensic audit of their finances under Murdock's leadership.
All of this leaves me - and a LOT of other people in Western NC - wondering what we're supposed to do with this information.
Are we supposed to abandon Eblen Charities and punish an organization that has helped untold thousands of poor people?
Are we supposed to believe the accusation and run Murdock out of the job? The organization? The town? The region? What punishment is being demanded of us to administer? He pleaded guilty and completed his sentence. Are we saying he can never work again - that he cannot participate in charitable organizations for the rest of his life?
And what of redemption and atonement? If we assume Murdock is guilty, does that mean his 30 years of work are nullified? If so, what does this say about our entire judicial and penal system?
Of course, all of this is complicated by the fact that Murdock denies the accusation - which means there can be no conversation about forgiveness, redemption or atonement.
And without clear answers here, it's starting to seem like the moral of this story is: Don't do bad things to people. But if you ever do, don't do good things afterward. Because people will want to be a part of those good things and recognize you for your efforts. Which will lead to publicity about any bad things you did. Which will destroy you.
I'm not sure that this is the best message to be sending or receiving here, but I'm also not sure there's going to be a better one.