A Burlington County jury on Wednesday acquitted a South Jersey woman of first-degree murder and a weapons offense, but found her guilty of aggravated manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the shooting death of her wife three years ago in the bedroom of their Mount Holly home.
Laura Bluestein, 31, had admitted to fatally shooting Felicia Dormans, 29, in the face on Aug. 6, 2017, but said it was an accident.
Bluestein showed no reaction to the verdict, reached on the panel’s third day of deliberations. Superior Court Judge Terrence Cook scheduled sentencing for April 23.
Assistant Prosecutor Jeremy Lackey, who had sought a murder conviction, said afterward that Bluestein faces up to 30 years in prison for manslaughter — a first-degree offense — and five years for the tampering charge. He declined to say what sentence his office would seek.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina was in the courtroom for the verdict and comforted the victim’s father, Joe Dormans. The victim’s mother, Christina Dormans, wept as she left the courtroom.
“I was happy,” Christina Dormans said later of her tears. “We wanted anything but her [Bluestein] walking.”
Defense attorney Robin Lord said Bluestein and her family were “extremely distraught that the jury found her guilty of anything.” She said she plans to appeal.
In a video statement on the night of the shooting, a sobbing Bluestein called Dormans “my soulmate” and said she never would have shot her intentionally.
In the statement to investigators from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mount Holly Police Department, Bluestein said Dormans had bought a gun about six to 12 months earlier for safety purposes and kept it by her side of the bed, but always had trouble loading it.
About 3 p.m. that Sunday afternoon, they were in their bedroom when Dormans handed her the gun and wanted Bluestein to load more bullets into it, Bluestein told investigators.
Bluestein said Dormans was sitting on the floor, and she was sitting on their bed about five to six feet away, “just looking at" the gun sights, and had the gun raised and pointed above Dormans when “the next thing I know, she was bleeding out of her eye.”
“Yes, I did shoot her, but it was an accident,” she said.
Lackey contended that the shooting was intentional and at a closer distance.
Ian Hood, the county medical examiner, testified that Dormans had gunpowder stippling on her face. He estimated the gun was about 1½ to 2 feet away from her when she was shot.
After the shooting, Bluestein said in her video statement, she ran to Dormans and tried to stop the bleeding but knew she was dead. Describing herself as “an emotional wreck,” she said she phoned both of her divorced parents and said, “Felicia’s dead.”
Her father thought she was kidding, she said. Asked by investigators why she didn’t call 911, she said: “I was scared.”
According to surveillance video played by prosecutors in court, Bluestein went to a Lowe’s store afterward and bought two shovels and blue tarps. After she returned, she began digging a grave in the couple’s yard, prosecutors said.
Police officers arrived at the couple’s Mill Street home after her father called 911 and asked them to check the home for a “personal matter,” according to the call played in court.
At the home, Mount Holly officers knocked loudly and announced themselves for several minutes before Bluestein opened the door. After officers ordered Bluestein to get on the ground outside, they found Dormans’ body on a tarp in the bedroom.
In her statement to investigators, Bluestein contended that she and Dormans bickered over things like cleaning the dishes, doing laundry, or paying credit card bills. Bluestein said she worked in construction, and Dormans didn’t work but would use Bluestein’s credit card for purchases. Money was tight, she said, but they didn’t have major arguments.
She told investigators that she and Dormans had met when they were 17, but then both moved, then began dating about 2½ years earlier after seeing each other on Tinder, the dating app. She said they married a year later.
The victim’s mother previously told The Inquirer that her daughter had said she was physically abused by Bluestein, and that she had warned her daughter to leave.