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‘You’re a living monster:’ Mom confronts daughter’s killer after his murder conviction

Gilbert Newton III was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of first-degree murder.

Gilbert Newton III is escorted out of a courtroom in the Montgomery County Courthouse. Newton was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of his ex-girlfriend, Morgan McCaffery, during an argument in July 2020.
Gilbert Newton III is escorted out of a courtroom in the Montgomery County Courthouse. Newton was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of his ex-girlfriend, Morgan McCaffery, during an argument in July 2020.Read moreVinny Vella / Staff

A Montgomery County jury took a little more than two hours to convict a Fox Chase teen of first-degree murder for stabbing his ex-girlfriend at least 30 times during a meeting at a secluded SEPTA station parking lot last year.

Gilbert Newton III, 19, hung his head in silence as the verdict was read Wednesday inside the Norristown courtroom where his trial was held before Judge William Carpenter. He barely reacted minutes later, when Carpenter sentenced him to life in prison, the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.

But the family of Morgan McCaffery, the 18-year-old Newton left for dead at the Meadowbrook train station in Abington in July 2020, showed plenty of emotion.

McCaffery’s mother, Kathleen, shook with indignation as she took the stand during Newton’s sentencing, loudly counting the number of times he stabbed her daughter.

“This isn’t just a life sentence for you, Gil,” she said to Newton, whom she called “a living monster.”

“This is a life sentence you have imposed on all of us,” she continued, her voice shaking. “I hate you. I will always hate you, and I will never speak your name again.”

Newton lured McCaffery to the train station under the guise of one final meeting about their relationship, which had ended a few months before.

During that encounter, Newton stabbed and slashed at McCaffery with two kitchen knives he had taken from his mother’s knife block, then sped away after a passerby happened upon the scene. He later confessed to the killing when questioned by Philadelphia police called to his home by his mother.

Newton’s attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., conceded during closing arguments Wednesday that his client was responsible for the murder. But he told jurors Newton had not planned to harm McCaffery, but rather intended to kill himself in front of her and thus was not guilty of premeditated, first-degree murder.

Prosecutors, led by Assistant District Attorney Kathleen McLaughlin, balked at that theory and presented evidence of weeks of threatening text messages Newton sent to McCaffery, including one in which he threatened to “stab [her] in the neck continuously.”

Peruto called Newton “an idiot kid, an immature kid,” but not someone who would carefully plan and carry out a murder. Instead, he told jurors, a distraught and suicidal Newton lashed out in anger that day.

“What happened to Morgan is awful,” Peruto said. “But I’m asking you to look at the mental burden this defendant was operating under before you conclude he acted with a premeditated intent to kill her.”

Peruto told jurors to consider the many character witnesses he presented Tuesday, including Newton’s parents, a longtime neighbor, coaches, and a teammate who all said Newton had a reputation for “peacefulness, truthfulness, and being law-abiding.”

“Yes, we have text messages that say ‘I’m gonna stab you in the neck 57 times,’ but he’s a kid,” Peruto said. “He says a lot of things.”

» READ MORE: Philly teen stabbed ex-girlfriend to death at Montgomery County train station, DA says

McLaughlin told the jurors Wednesday that there should be little doubt in their minds about Newton’s guilt.

“This talk of suicide is a sham, and he’s still using that to try to manipulate you to throw your common sense out the window.”

She said Newton, a recent graduate of Roman Catholic High School who was preparing to play soccer at Lebanon Valley College, had had plenty to live for and concocted the suicide story to elicit sympathy.

Text messages Newton sent to his mother after the murder about stabbing McCaffery repeatedly showed that he was fully aware of what he had done, McLaughlin said, despite his testimony Tuesday that much of the attack was a blur.

“Conveniently, the only thing that the defendant remembers is that Morgan spat and slapped him,” she said. “It’s all a manipulation. It’s all about him, and it’s never about Morgan and what he did to her.”

After the verdict was delivered, McLaughlin said: “The jury got it right.”

“I hope that this brings attention and lets people know to speak out, and to know you aren’t alone,” McLaughlin said. “And if you feel you’re being threatened or you feel like somebody is treating you in ways they shouldn’t, make sure you don’t keep that to yourself.”