A woman who “has committed a fraud on the whole court system,” was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison after a two-hour hearing in Dale County Circuit Court Thursday, Nov. 12.
“The more I prepare for this case, the more disgusted I am,” Thirty Third Judicial Circuit District Attorney Kirke Adams said after multiple people testified that Brandy Murrah “just didn’t care” while their children were taken from them due to drug test reports that Murrah falsified.
Murrah was arrested by Ozark police in 2019 on charges she falsified the results of drug screenings handled by her lab, A and J Lab Collections, which provided drug-screen and paternity tests to the Dale County Department of Human Resources.
Murrah pled guilty in September, agreeing to a 15-year sentence on a felony charge of perjury and 12 months’ sentence on each of 16 misdemeanor counts of forgery, to run concurrently. During the sentencing hearing before Thirty Third Judicial Circuit Presiding Circuit Judge William Filmore Nov. 12, Murrah’s attorney, David Harrison, asked the court to sentence his client to a community corrections program or probation citing the fact that she is on medication that will become a financial burden to the state. “If she’s incarcerated, who does it help?” Harrison asked the judge. “At the end of the day, I understand this woman affected peoples’ lives but she has pled guilty and it is a slap in the face to justice not to give her probation.”
Those affected by Murrah’s falsified drug tests did not agree. “We ask for justice to prevail for the children,” roofing company owner Sandy Knowles told the court. “We come, as adults, to speak for the children. I plead for the system to hear us.”
One of Knowles’ employees, his children and she, herself, were victimized by the false drug tests, Knowles told the court.
She said that on a weekend when her employee—a company foreman—had to work, she babysat his two young children. The children were in foster care because their mother was in a drug rehabilitation program. Their father, Knowles’ employee, was working to get custody of the boys.
When the children were returned to their foster parents after the weekend, the children tested positive for exposure to drugs. Knowles said that as their caretaker that weekend she was astonished and volunteered to be drug tested herself. She falsely tested positive for drug use as the result of a test administered by Murrah. The children had also been tested by Murrah.
“I am an innocent bystander,” Knowles said. “The system failed everywhere in this.”
Dale County Attorney Alfred Livaudais took the witness stand to re-iterate Knowles’ testimony. He was the attorney for Knowles’ employee in the custody case. “The plan was to get the children back to him,” Livaudais told the court.
Livaudais said he questioned Murrah, under oath, during the DHR custody hearing about her drug testing procedures. Her answer resulted in the felony perjury charge.
A Dale County Department of Human Resources employee testified that DHR used Murrah’s services because she was available around the clock. She said that there were regularly “several discrepancies in her billing, a lot of travel expenses” but that Murrah would always correct them when it was pointed out to her.
The DHR employee told Adams that DHR did tell Murrah what specific drugs to look for in the tests she conducted and that her false tests did concur with what drugs she had been told to look for. “We would tell her what the allegation was,” the employee answered in response to Adams’s question.
The DHR employee said she had no idea how many people did not get their children back because of Murrah’s alleged fraudulent reports.
Grace Locke told the court that her two older children were taken from her by DHR due to her drug use. After she successfully completed rehabilitation, and having had a third baby, she wanted to be reunited with the older two.
Locke told the court that she met with her Dale County DHR case workers to plan to regain custody and received news that her latest drug test had come back positive for methamphetamine and her baby’s test showed exposure. Her newborn baby was taken from her during the meeting, she said. “It was terrible,” Locke told the court. “I felt like my heart was being ripped out of my chest because I knew I was doing right with this one. I knew I was doing right.”
Jennifer Severs was in a custody battle with her ex-husband when Murrah collected hair follicle samples for drug screenings as part of the custody case. The test showed Severs was positive for drugs even though Severs said she doesn’t use any drugs. Additional tests proved negative but Severs said it took months before she was finally reunited with her children because DHR used the original test results. Severs contacted a doctor listed on Murrah’s report and learned that the doctor had never done the screening. She then contacted the Ozark Police Department.
“This is a daily battle for me on who I can trust,” she said. “This is a daily battle for my children.”
Murrah’s current employers, owners of a janitorial company, described her as a hard worker who was dependable and caring. “Did you run a criminal check before you hired her?” Adams asked. “Would knowledge of the fact that she had five prior felonies before this change your mind?”
“Brandy cares a lot about people,” her employer said. “She absolutely does care.”
“Do you know when she started caring?” Adams asked Murrah’s employer. “Do you realize that she has plead guilty to these charges? Would a caring person let DHR take a seven-week old baby away from its mother and know it was because of a false drug test?”
“I know I did wrong, we all make mistakes,” Murrah said as she stood with her attorney before Filmore awaiting sentencing. “No matter what your decision I will make it through this.
Murrah told the court that she was “green” when she started her business. “I made mistakes and all I can do is own up to my mistakes,” she told the court. “I’ve lived through some very tough battles. I think my true calling is to be a counselor. I want to advocate for others with my life. I’ve been through hell and I’ll make it.
“I’m sorry for anyone I ever hurt,” she added.” I really did not do this intentionally to ever hurt anyone.”
“She continues to blame everyone else,” Adams said about Murrah. “She should go to prison for her other felonies alone.
“She has committed a fraud upon the whole court system,” he said. “The worst part is for those who suffered because no one believed them—and she did not care.”