In a plot straight out of CSI, Gary McGurk, an Irish national and criminology student who confessed to killing a crime laboratory technician for the NYPD, was sentenced to 37 years in jail on Wednesday after pleading guilty to the murder.
The distraught family of murder victim Michelle Lee were in court to express their fury at the 24-year-old killer who admitted to murder and tampering with evidence.
Lee was an NYPD criminologist. She was found dead in her Sunnyside, Queens apartment in April 2009. Her head was covered in a plastic wrap to limit bleeding. McGurk later admitted he hit Lee in the head four times with a hammer, stabbing her in the neck, and burned her body with an iron.
Investigators said McGurk then posed the body in a certain way attempt to throw detectives off track
McGurk, who is originally from County Tyrone, moved to America at a young age with his parents.
His father, Aiden McGurk, was involved with the IRA in Northern Ireland.
In court McGurk told the victim's family he was sorry.
"I myself am still coming to terms for what I have done and I make no excuses. I have taken away the life of a very special young woman. I don't ask forgiveness. I don't think I deserve it," he said.
Friends and family said McGirk also swindled Lee out of thousands of dollars, claiming he had cancer.
"We wake up every day thinking we are in the middle of a horrible nightmare. What you did was unforgivable. What you did makes our blood boil," said Lee's sister, Stephanie.
The judge, who was constrained by the plea deal, told McGurk: "You deserve a life sentence for what you did."
McGurk, who could be eligible for parole in his 50s, will be deported back to Ireland if he becomes eligible.
Lee, who worked for the NYPD's crime lab, was found dead in her bedroom on Monday April 27,2009 in the Irish neighborhood of Sunnyside in Queens.
McGurk allegedly stabbed Lee in the throat, then scalded her chest with a steam iron after she was dead. Cops also say he swindled her out of a great sum of money, perhaps in the thousands of dollars.
Her body had been badly beaten, and was bloodied by stab marks and bound. She had last been seen leaving a fitness club two days earlier.
The 24-year-old Lee worked for the city Police Department in what relatives said was her "dream job." She was a forensic investigator — like the kind portrayed on the popular "CSI" television show — and worked in police forensic labs.
Police sources told IrishCentral.com that Lee kept a diary that detailed her apparently secret romance with McGurk. One entry noted that the student soccer star had cancer, which was untrue. She reportedly gave him money for cancer treatment, they revealed.
The precise motive for the alleged murder was unclear. Lee's salary was not large, and the financial strain may have caused her to cut back on the funding of his "treatment."
Police sources said that once they were sure McGurk was their leading suspect, they acted quickly to prevent him from fleeing to his home in Ireland.
In his statement to police, McGurk said he met Lee at the John Jay gym in 2004, and they dated briefly before becoming "friends with benefits," he said.
"It got to the point that when she wasn't giving me the money back, I told her, 'You know I do have cancer and I need my money back,'" McGurk said in his statement.
McGurk said he last saw Lee around 2 a.m. on April 26, when she met him outside her apartment to explain she could not pay him back and they parted amicably, according to his statement. "I got to her apartment door and she said she had company and said good night and walked off," he told police in a statement on April 28.
McGurk maintained his innocence. "If I did it, I would deserve to be put away," he said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly told IrishCentral.com of Lee, "She was a very talented young woman. She was murdered in a very brutal way." McGurk was suspected because he had "inconsistencies in his story," Kelly said, noting there was also forensic evidence implicating him.
McGurk's academic specialty at John Jay focused on psychology and legal issues. Forensic psychologists often evaluate individuals to determine whether they are competent to stand trial, and their potential for future dangerous behavior.
Chillingly, the department website lists two academic events that McGurk could have attended during the course of his studies: "Understanding and Preventing the Murder of Women in Intimate Relationships" and "The Interrogation and Torture Controversy."
McGurk's page on MySpace.com shows the accused killer said his mood was "blissful" the last time he logged into the social network which occured after the girl was murdered.