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Gary McGurk (left) in police custody last year. Photo by: Irish Voice

Irish man pleads guilty to murder

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Gary McGurk (left) in police custody last year. Photo by: Irish Voice

A CO. Tyrone man pleaded guilty to murdering his former girlfriend in her Sunnyside, Queens apartment in April 2009.

Gary McGurk, 24, pleaded guilty on Thursday, May 20 to the gruesome slaying of his ex-girlfriend, Michelle Lee, 24, on April, 26 2009.

McGurk, who moved to New York from Tyrone with his parents when he was a child, admitted to beating Lee, an NYPD criminologist, in the head with a hammer, stabbing her in the neck with a knife, burning her body with an iron and making the scene look like a sex crime. 

McGurk, who pleaded not guilty after his arrest, posed Lee’s naked body on the bed in an effort to throw investigators off his trail. He tied her hands to the bedpost with her cell phone charger cord.

McGurk wrapped her head in plastic and then beat her four times in the head with a hammer.

Last Wednesday he told Queens Supreme Court Judge Gregory Lasak, "I positioned her on the bed…I positioned a knife in her neck."

After the murder was committed McGurk left the apartment with the hammer, plastic wrap and her Blackberry.

He sent a message from her phone to his trying to make it look like he was innocent.

McGurk, a skilled soccer player, had a sexual relationship with Lee since he met her in the gym of the CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004.

"Sweet girl. Friends first, herself last," McGurk said in a statement last year.

"She told me that she made bad decisions. I told her that I was a bad decision, joking."

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said the plea deal spared Lee’s family from hearing about the gruesome crime during a trial.

"I think that Michelle would have been especially proud of her colleagues at the NYPD's Queens crime lab who worked tirelessly to make certain that her killer was apprehended and that justice would be served," said Brown.

McGurk was picked up by police and charged on May 25, 2009. Since his arrest he has been held in Rikers Island without bail.

Police also say he swindled Lee out of a great sum of money, perhaps in the thousands of dollars, telling her he had cancer and needed money for treatment or he would die. Police say he may have become enraged when she put a stop to the “loans.”

Police sources told the Irish Voice last year that Lee kept a diary that detailed her secret romance with McGurk.

One entry noted the student soccer star’s story about his cancer. She reportedly gave him money for cancer treatment, the diary revealed. Lee's salary was not large, and the financial strain may have caused her to cut back on the funding.

Lee worked for the 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 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, suggesting that he loaned her money.

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 said.

After the murder Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said 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 showed the accused killer said his mood was "blissful" a few days after Lee’s murder.

McGurk, who will be sentenced in June, faces up to 37 years in jail.

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