The trial in the 2017 slaying of a Bucks County pharmaceutical executive began Tuesday with the selection of a jury that will weigh the fate of his lover and accused killer, a former exotic dancer and motorcycle mechanic half his age.
Jennifer Morrisey, 34, had been dating Michael McNew, a district sales manager for AbbVie, for four years, and had lived with him in his home in Washington Crossing. McNew met Morrisey while she worked as a dancer, and the two bonded over their shared interest in motorcycles.
After a marathon jury selection Tuesday, counsel on both sides narrowed a list of 60 jurors to 12, with two alternates. The group is set to return to Doylestown on Thursday for opening statements before Judge Raymond F. McHugh.
On Aug. 8, 2017, McNew, 64, was found dead in the home the two had shared, shot once between the eyes by a gun prosecutors say he owned — and that remains missing.
After testifying before a grand jury a month later, Morrisey was charged with first- and second-degree murder, burglary, and related offenses. Prosecutors believe she returned to the house after the shooting and staged a robbery, turning out his pockets and stealing a laptop and smartphone.
Investigators later uncovered a venomous text exchange between the two in the hours leading up to McNew’s death. In it, he alternated between telling Morrisey he loved her and asking her to come over, and threatening to shoot her. She, in turn, boasted she would “gut” McNew like she was “field dressing a deer.”
McNew also threatened to talk to federal investigators about Charles “Ruthless” Kulow, a member of the Breeds motorcycle gang, whom Morrisey had apparently started dating. (Kulow was found guilty of third-degree murder in an unrelated case in October, the fatal shooting of a man in Philadelphia who had pretended to be a member of the Breeds, according to police paperwork filed in the case.)
Morrisey’s defense attorney, S. Philip Steinberg, has said McNew was manipulative and abusive, and maintains that his client was lured to McNew’s home to retrieve her belongings, was confronted with a gun and acted out of self-defense.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher W. Rees, the lead prosecutor on the case, in pretrial motions painted the couple’s relationship as tumultuous. McNew supported Morrisey financially, paying more than $4,000 in court fees after her arrests on misdemeanor drug and driving offenses. He also made her the beneficiary of two of his life insurance policies, totaling more than $360,000, a sum that prosecutors say established a potential motive for his slaying.
Rees also submitted statements from anonymous jailhouse informants who said Morrisey provided them with expansive details about McNew’s death. They said she told them the gun went off as she and McNew wrestled over it, and that she later returned to the home to stage a burglary.
Morrisey, in recorded prison phone calls played during a hearing in November, said she was unaware that McNew had made her the beneficiary on the policies until after his death.
In other calls, she said the case was bogus and railed against the District Attorney’s Office, saying investigators “cherry-picked” texts to include in public court filings. Prosecutors attempted to subpoena more texts from a second phone belonging to Morrisey that they couldn’t access, but McHugh denied that request.
“If it was planned out, I wouldn’t have had to come back a second time,” Morrisey said in one recorded conversation played during the pretrial hearing. “If I was there to deliberately … kill him, I wouldn’t tell him, ‘I’m on my way.'"
She went on to say that she “didn’t want to hurt anybody” and that the threats she and McNew exchanged over texts were "a pissing match to see who was more disrespectful.”
“They were not credible threats,” she said. “It was just the nastiest stuff I could think of.”
Steinberg previously pushed to have the case dismissed, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
In a motion filed in November, Steinberg said a county detective and local police officer contacted Morrisey with information about her elderly dog, which had been taken to an animal shelter, in order to “coerce a confession.” The detectives then arranged an interview with Morrisey days later, after she had been taken into custody on a bench warrant for violating her probation.
During that interview, Steinberg wrote, the detectives improperly asked her about McNew’s death without the lawyer present, despite knowing that she had hired him to represent her in the case.