A 33-year-old former stripper was found guilty of shooting her “sugar daddy” in the face when he tried to end the relationship, and then tampering with the crime scene to make it look like a fatal burglary
A Philadelphia jury convicted Jennifer Morrissey of the first-degree murder of 65-year-old Michael McNew, tampering with evidence, and possession of an instrument of crime. Morrissey was acquitted of criminal trespassing and burglary.
Her sentencing has been deferred to a later date, the Bucks County District Attorney's office said.
The decision came after a gripping one-week trial at Bucks County Court, in which prosecutors depicted a complicated relationship involving expensive habits, secret life insurance policies, and a violent motorcycle gang leader. Morrissey now faces a maximum of life in prison.
“You don’t have to like the fact that there is a big age difference, and you don’t have to approve of the type of relationship they had,” Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Kristin McElroy told the jury, according to court reporters. “But he didn’t deserve to die because of it.”
The central issue at the trial was not if Morrissey, a stripper and motorcycle mechanic, had killed McNew on Aug. 6, 2017, but why. She claimed it was an accidental shooting following a struggle with her emotionally abusive lover.
Prosecutors claimed that Morrissey, a mother of one, “had murder on the mind” when she drove her motorcycle to McNew’s home, sneaking up on him while he slept in his living-room chair and shooting him in the face at “point-blank range.”
Morrissey’s motive was to cash in on McNew’s $362,000 life-insurance policy that listed her as the beneficiary, prosecutors told the jury.
In a recorded prison phone call, however, Morrissey claimed she was unaware of the policy’s existence. “If it was planned out, I wouldn’t have had to come back a second time,” she said in the call. “If I was there to deliberately… kill him, I wouldn’t tell him, ‘I’m on my way.’ ”
The defense also claimed the shooting was “self-defense” after months of emotional abuse painting a picture of Morrissey as a vulnerable high-school dropout who suffered from PTSD and depression, and was was working as an exotic dancer and motorcycle mechanic to support her young child and pay for her drug habit.
Morrissey was in “the most desperate time in her life,” her lawyer, Phillip Steinberg told jurors. “She’s ultimately someone that suffered a lifetime of abuse, and continued to be in an abusive and inappropriate relationship with the decedent. He met a struggling girl and bought her things as a means of control, not love.”
McNew was a district sales manager for pharmaceutical company AbbVie who met Morrissey in 2014 at the strip club where she worked. During their first date, he agreed to pay for her overdue electric bill of $1,200.
The relationship continued and despite Morrissey’s struggle with heroin, the two reportedly bonded over a shared interest in motorcycles. McNew asked her to move in in Jan. 2015.
While the two were never married, Morrissey indicated to friends and family that McNew financially supported her and paid for her previous legal fees—often referring to him as her “sugar daddy.”
Through the arrangement put a strain on McNew’s relationship with his adult children, he did not seek to end things with Morrissey until he learned she was also dating a motorcycle gang member named Charles “Ruthless” Kulow.
Phone records obtained during the investigation showed Morrissey and McNew arguing over more than 90 text messages after he learned she had another sexual relationship.
The texts, which went on for hours, alternated between violent threats and declarations of love, court documents showed.
“I wanted you to be with me forever. You chose not to. I can’t compete with your love,” the pharma exec texted, according to court documents. “You have a new boyfriend now… I have always loved you beyond your imagination and mine, but you chose differently. And I guess 4 years with you is all a waste of my time.”
In another message, McNew finally tried to end his relationship with Morrissey, texting her that her belongings would be available in storage for her to retrieve, and that he would “defend” himself if she tried to come over, court records showed.
“He became enraged at the thought of her dating someone else and threatened to destroy and desecrate the things that meant the most to her,” Morrissey’s lawyer said in court, including her sister’s ashes and locks of hair belonging to her child.
Morrissey, according to court records, did not respond well to the threats from her “sugar daddy.”
“Get the gun ready cause I’m coming. I already told you that I’ll be there tonight… guess your [sic] just gonna have to shoot me,” she purportedly texted back, according to court records. “I’m gonna stab ya.”
In another message, she wrote: “I’ll gut you like I’m field dressing a deer.”
Three hours later, McNew was found dead—shot once in the face inside his home in Washington Crossing, about 45 minutes northeast of Philadelphia.
“The crime scene, the forensic evidence, and actions of the defendant all point to one thing: She went there, she pointed a deadly weapon at him, and she shot him once between the eyes. That is murder,” assistant district attorney McElroy said.
The corpse of the businessman was found, seated in a chair, by police two days later. Morrissey was charged with criminal homicide, burglary, possessing an instrument of crime, and tampering with evidence in Sept. 2017.
On Monday, Kulow, Morrissey’s motorcycle gang member boyfriend, testified that the motorcycle mechanic “was really angry” when she drove to McNew’s house, but that she never intended to kill him.
Kulow, the leader of The Breed Motorcycle Club, began dating Morrissey a few months prior to the shooting.
“She wrestled the gun away from him, she said, but it accidentally fired when [McNew] grabbed her arm,” Kulow said, admitting that Morrissey went to his house instead of calling the police. To further cover her tracks, Kulow testified he’d urinated on Morrissey's hand to eliminate any gunshot residue.
Morrissey then testified in her own defense on Thursday, crying as she told the jury she cared about McNew, who lavished her with a place to live, cars and motorcycles, money, and a trip to Puerto Rico.
Despite becoming romantically involved with someone else, Morrissey testified she didn’t want to end the relationship on bad terms and simply went to McNew’s home to retrieve her belongings.
When she walked in, Morrissey told the jury, she smelled alcohol on McNew’s breath and was was shocked that instead of hugging her, he instead pointed a gun close to her face.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Zhong Xu Hua testified this week that McNew had a “reasonable degree of significant intoxication,” at the time of his death.
Morrissey testified that as the struggle ensued, she tried to remove the ammo clip to prevent a fatal accident. Then, she said on Thursday, she heard a loud noise and blood began to trickle from the bridge of McNew’s nose.
“I didn’t mean to shoot him,” she said.
Prosecutors argue that during that time, Morrissey left the house with the gun wrapped in a bandana. The next day, the 33-year-old returned to stage McNew’s house and body to make it look as if he was a victim of a botched robbery, the district attorney’s office alleged.
To further the ruse, prosecutors said, she also buried McNew’s phone, computer, and his watch in her current boyfriend’s backyard and messaged him on Facebook to make it seem as though she was unaware what had transpired.
In his closing argument Thursday, Steinberg argued Morrissey was in panic mode, and acted because she thought police would not believe her story.
“She did everything she could to make a legally justified killing appear to be a crime,” Steinberg said, according to court reporters.
“Prove her wrong. It’s the truth and she didn’t have to tell it.”
Rees, on the other hand, argued the angle of the shot was consistent with McNew leaning back in his chair, asleep instead of a struggle that Morrissey testified and argued that McNew’s attempts to continue the relationship led to his death.
“He put his faith in her and she put a bullet in his head,” he told the jury.
The next day, they returned with a guilty verdict after 10 hours of deliberation.