The tabloids called it “The Judge-sicle Murder.”
It was a ridiculous name for an event so horrific and tragic, but it sold newspapers, and generated web hits, so it stuck.
In the immediate aftermath, very little was known and reported in the media, so they compensated by detailing the same facts over and over. Judge Daniel Brennan had attended a charity dinner earlier that evening at the Woodcliff Lakes Hilton. Judge Brennan generally avoided those type of events whenever he could, but in this case felt an obligation.
The Guest of Honor was Judge Susan Dembeck, who was at that point a sitting judge on the bench of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Since Judge Brennan’s nomination to that court was before the Senate and he was replacing the retiring Judge Dembeck, he made the obvious and proper decision to support his future predecessor by attending the event.
Others at the dinner estimated that Judge Brennan left at ten thirty, and that was confirmed by closed-circuit cameras in the lobby. He stopped at a 7-Eleven, five minutes from his Alpine, New Jersey, home, to buy a few minor items. The proprietor of the establishment, one Harold Murphy, said that Judge Brennan was a frequent patron of the store. He said it on the Today show the following morning, in what the network breathlessly promoted as an exclusive interview, which aired seven minutes before Good Morning America’s breathlessly promoted exclusive interview with Mr. Murphy.
Among the items that Murphy described Judge Brennan as buying was a Fudgsicle. It was, he said, one of the Judge’s weaknesses, regardless of the season. As was the Judge’s apparent custom, Murphy said that he started opening the Fudgsicle wrapper while walking to the door, such was his desire to eat it. Murphy seemed to cite this as evidence that the Judge was a “regular guy.”
Murphy didn’t mention, and wasn’t asked, the time that Judge Brennan arrived at the store. It was eleven forty-five, meaning the ten-minute drive from hotel to store had apparently taken an hour and fifteen minutes.
It was ten minutes after midnight when Thomas Phillips, who lived four doors down from Judge Brennan, walked by the Judge’s house with his black Lab, Duchess. In that affluent neighborhood, four doors down meant there was almost a quarter mile of separation between the two homes.
The Judge’s garage door was open, and his car was sitting inside, with its lights on. This was certainly an unusual occurrence, and Phillips called out the Judge’s name a few times. Getting no response, he walked towards the garage.
In the reflected light off the garage wall, he could see the Judge’s body, covered in blood that was slowly making its way towards where Phillips was standing. The Fudgsicle, melting but with the wrapper around the stick, was just a few inches from the victim’s mouth, a fact that Phillips related when he gave his own round of exclusive interviews.
The murder of a judge would be a very significant story in its own right, especially when the victim was up for a Court of Appeals appointment. But the fact that this particular judge was “Danny” Brennan elevated it to a media firestorm.
Brennan was forty-two years old and a rising star in the legal system. It was a comfortable role for him to play, as he had considerable experience as a rising star.
He was a phenom as a basketball player at Teaneck High School, moving on to Rutgers, where he earned first-team All America status. Rather than head to the NBA as a first-round draft choice after one season, which he could certainly have done, he chose instead to stay all four years. He then pulled a “Bill Bradley,” and went on to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.
When his studies had concluded, he finally moved on to the NBA, and within two years was the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics. It was during a play-off game against the Orlando Magic that on one play he cut right, while his knee cut left. He tore an ACL and MCL, which pretty much covers all the “CLs” a knee contains, and despite intensive rehab for a year and a half, he was never the same.
Confronted with physical limitations but no mental ones, Daniel Brennan went to Harvard Law, and began a rapid rise up the legal ladder.
A rise that ended in a garage, in a pool of blood and melted Fudgsicle.
Copyright © 2013 by Tara Productions, Inc.