Jennifer Morrisey spent four years with Michael McNew, the pharmaceutical executive twice her age who had wooed her, plucking her out of the strip club where she worked and placing her into a life of comfort, fine art, and Caribbean vacations.
But Friday, after 10 hours of deliberation, a Bucks County jury found Morrisey, 34, guilty of first-degree murder in McNew’s death, a grim end to a relationship that both prosecutors and her defense attorney described as turbulent and fraught.
She was also convicted of tampering with evidence and possession of an instrument of a crime. Judge Raymond F. McHugh revoked Morrisey’s bail and deferred sentencing.
For hours on Friday, the five-woman, seven-man jury pored over crime-scene photos from McNew’s home, where a co-worker found him shot between the eyes in August 2017, as well as a string of angry and threatening texts they exchanged on the day he died.
As the verdict was read about 7 p.m., Morrisey stood stone-faced and silent next to her lawyer, S. Philip Steinberg.
In tearful last-minute testimony Thursday, the Bensalem native said McNew’s death was an accident. She said he drunkenly pointed a pistol at her and they wrestled over the weapon in the living room of his Washington Crossing home. The gun went off accidentally, she said, as she tried to unload it.
“We certainly appreciate the jury’s diligence and hard work in coming to a verdict,” Steinberg said. “That being said, we do disagree with them today. Ms. Morrisey testified, told her story, and told it in a truthful fashion.”
Prosecutors, led by Deputy District Attorney Christopher W. Rees, spent a week trying to discredit that account. They called several former cellmates of Morrisey’s to the stand, women who testified that the former exotic dancer and motorcycle mechanic frequently discussed the case with them, seeking their advice on how to craft a self-defense plea.
They said Morrissey joked about killing her “sugar daddy” and adopted the nickname “Sug-slayer” while in the county prison.
“It’s always a challenging moment when a jury returns a murder verdict,” Rees said. “In this case, we certainly feel grateful that finally after so many months have passed, Jennifer Morrisey is forced to take responsibility for the death of Michael McNew.
“On the other hand, it’s a bittersweet moment, because no matter what the jury does or did, Mr. McNew’s loved ones, his family and friends, will never get to talk to him again,” he added.
Rees provided evidence that Morrisey had deleted the final, venomous conversation she had with McNew via text. It was a protracted argument over Morrisey’s dating another man, during which they exchanged graphic threats: He promised to shoot her, she to “gut him” like a deer.
Other texts proved equally damning, including a series of exchanges Morrisey sent after McNew was killed. She testified that she used the messages to “keep up appearances” with friends by alternating between pretending to be unaware of his death and saying that McNew had been killed during a burglary.
By her own admission, Morrisey fled McNew’s house after the shooting only to return a few hours later at the advice of the third person in the fatal love triangle: Charles “Ruthless” Kulow.
Kulow, a convicted murderer and member of the Breed motorcycle gang, told Morrisey to return to the house and stage a suicide, saying no one would believe her story, she testified.
Instead, she stole McNew’s phone, computer, and watch, and turned out his pockets to make it seem like a botched burglary. Kulow later disposed of the gun used in the shooting, she said.
After the verdict was read, McNew’s children and their families left the courtroom where they had spent a week of their lives staring down his killer.
Patrick McNew, speaking on behalf of his family, thanked the District Attorney’s Office and detectives who handled the investigation.