Still awaiting his first board hearing, he works in the emergency room of Parkview Community Hospital in Riverside with an unrestricted license.
The Times and ProPublica found more than 60 nurses disciplined since 2002 who -- like Murphy -- were accused of committing serious misconduct or mistakes in at least three health facilities before the board took action.
At least five employers reported Los Angeles nurse Carolyn Fay Thomas to the board for allegedly making medication errors and falsifying charts to hide her drug thefts.
And John Michael Jones racked up complaints from at least three hospitals for stealing and using drugs during work. Yet the board waited five years to revoke his license, even after he allegedly dozed off while performing CPR on a dying patient in 2002.
"I was high some of the times that I was working. Yes, I was," Jones, who denies falling asleep during CPR, said in an interview.
Several hospital administrators expressed shock when reporters told them that nurses they had turned in for dangerous failings went on to work at other facilities. No one tracks these nurses, who typically aren't required to tell the board where -- or even if -- they are working.
"There's got to be a better system than now to protect our patients and their safety," said Deborah Hankins, chief nursing officer at Bakersfield's San Joaquin Community Hospital, one of the hospitals that complained about Jones.
As it stands, complaints often take a circuitous route through several clogged bureaucracies: from the nursing board for initial assessment to the Department of Consumer Affairs for investigation, to the California attorney general's office for case filing and the state Office of Administrative Hearings for trial. Then the case goes back to the board for a final decision.
Other California health licensing boards are also hampered by delays -- but the registered nursing board stands out because of the sheer volume of licensees it regulates.
The biggest bottleneck occurs at the investigation stage, as Consumer Affairs staffers struggle to handle complaints against nurses as well as those against cosmetologists, acupuncturists and others. The nursing board must share a pool of fewer than 40 field investigators with up to 25 other licensing boards and bureaus. Some investigators handle up to 100 cases at a time.
All told, cases closed by the nursing board in fiscal 2008 took an average of 1,254 days. That pace surprised officials at other states' boards.
"I don't think it's ever to anybody's advantage to have a case open for three years," said Valerie Smith, associate director of Arizona's board, which typically takes 6 1/2 months from complaint to resolution.
Nursing boards nationwide vary widely in how they investigate and discipline nurses. But many do it faster.
Officials from Arizona, Texas and Ohio say they handle almost everything within their own agencies, exercising tight control and questioning cases that take too long.
"Where there's the greatest risk, we want to take the fastest action," said Betsy Houchen, head of Ohio's board, which requires 95% of the most serious complaints to be investigated within five working days.
Boards with the fairest and quickest outcomes hire their own investigators, usually nurses themselves, as well as their own attorneys, according to a 2004 trade group report.
Terry could ask the state Legislature for broader authority or permission to hire her own investigators, but she said she has no plans to. Rather, she said, she intends to adhere to the "process that the state of California has set up in terms of protecting the public."
She said her staff had recently begun working with Consumer Affairs investigators to prioritize and expedite the handling of complaints.