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Jury begins deliberating in Bucks murder trial as suspect takes the stand

Jennifer Morrisey took the stand in her own defense Thursday morning.

Jennifer Morrisey is charged with killing Michael McNew.
Jennifer Morrisey is charged with killing Michael McNew.Read moreBucks County District Attorney's Office

After a week of testimony in a Bucks County courtroom, a trial stemming from a fatal love triangle involving a onetime stripper, a pharma executive, and a biker came to a close Thursday with the woman who pulled the trigger taking center stage.

In emotional testimony, Jennifer Morrisey told the jury that the fatal shooting of Michael McNew, the man who had financially supported her for years, was an unintentional tragedy.

“I didn’t mean to,” Morrisey, 34, said through tears. “It was an accident.”

The jury, impaneled before Judge Raymond F. McHugh, deliberated for an hour before recessing for the day just after 6 p.m. It is set to return Friday.

Morrisey is accused of shooting McNew, 64, a pharmaceutical executive, in the face with his pistol in August 2017. The Bensalem native said the gun went off as she and McNew struggled over it, accidentally firing as she worked to unload its magazine.

Her turn at the witness stand was a last-minute decision.

Deputy District Attorney Christopher W. Rees tried to pick apart Morrisey’s story, honing in on her decision to leave the house after the shooting without calling police, and highlighting her subsequent efforts to hide her involvement in what she later said was an accident.

In his closing argument, the prosecutor was blunt.

“He put his faith in her, and she put a bullet in his head,” Rees said.

A forensic analyst testified last week that the bullet was fired at most an inch away from his face. At that distance, Rees said, the only intention is to kill.

And given the undisturbed state of McNew’s living room after the shooting, he cast doubt on Morrisey’s contention that McNew was shot during a struggle.

“This is not the scene of a fight, this is the scene of a murder,” Rees said. “And the only way she could’ve killed him is to sneak up on him as he’s sleeping.”

Morrisey’s attorney, S. Philip Steinberg, said his client was truthful to the jurors and testified because she wanted her story to be heard.

“Believe her," he urged the jury, adding that her fear that law enforcement officials would not believe her motivated her to attempt to stage the shooting to look like a robbery.

“She did everything she could to make a legally justified shooting appear to be a crime,” Steinberg said.

Morrisey told jurors she met McNew while working as an exotic dancer at Club Risque in Bristol. He wooed her, she said, helping her to pay off a $1,200 electric bill while wining and dining her, buying her a car, and taking her on vacation.

She and her infant son moved into McNew’s home in Washington Crossing in 2015, after her stepfather and sister died in the same week, she testified. The next two years of their relationship were tumultuous, as Morrisey battled addiction to heroin, and McNew grew possessive and territorial.

He accused her, she said, of “sleeping with every male friend,” sometimes threatening to kick her out of his home or saying he’d shoot her drug dealers.

By August 2017, Morrisey had been dating Charles “Ruthless” Kulow, a member of the Breed motorcycle gang, for a few months.

On the day of the killing, during an argument over her continued relationship with Kulow, McNew threatened to throw out her dead sister’s ashes and other family mementos important to her, she said. They traded threats — he promised to shoot her, she to “gut him” — but she said she never took the threats seriously.

When she went to confront him, she said, McNew was surly and red-faced, with the smell of alcohol when she arrived at his house. She got close enough to him to hug him when he produced a gun and demanded to know where Kulow was. She said she knocked the gun away and tried to remove its magazine, and heard a loud bang as she did.

When she looked up, she saw McNew bleeding from a gunshot wound between his eyes, she said.

Morrisey said she fled in panic and sought advice from Kulow. He told her to return to the home with a friend of his and try to make it look like a suicide, because “no one would believe” her story.

Steinberg said that was her downfall: seeking advice from “two idiots” like Kulow and his friend.

But the plan proved difficult: Morrisey couldn’t access McNew’s phone to delete a record of their threat-filled conversation or return the clip to the gun.

Instead, she said, she decided to make the scene look like a botched robbery, stealing McNew’s cell phone, laptop, and watch, and taking the gun with them. That weapon, a .380 Smith & Wesson, has never been found, and Morrisey testified that Kulow had it “cut up and melted down.”

After the shooting, Morrisey decided to “keep up appearances” on social media in an attempt to evade law enforcement.

Hours after shooting McNew, she sent him a text saying she wasn’t going to visit him that day after all. The next day, she sent him a Facebook message asking about an upcoming doctor’s appointment.

Once McNew’s body was discovered, Morrisey oscillated among pretending not to know anything about what happened, expressing concern about McNew, and telling a friend McNew had been killed in a burglary.

“Dude, you know me, would I ever do that, esp to someone I care about so deeply?" she told one friend in a Facebook message. "I wouldn’t do that to someone I hate.”