Woodsider gets up to 37 years for murder

Gary McGurk, shown here at his plea bargain, has been sentenced to 29 to 37 years in prison for killing Michelle Lee.
By Rebecca Henely

Woodside resident and Ireland native Gary McGurk, 24, received a sentence of 29 to 37 years in state prison last week for killing his sometime girlfriend Michelle Lee, a criminologist, in her Sunnyside apartment.

McGurk pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and three counts of evidence tampering last month in the April 26, 2009, murder.

“The lengthy sentence imposed today by the court punishes this defendant for the brutal and senseless crime that abruptly cut short the life of a talented young woman with a bright and promising future,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said June 16. “Justice has been done.”

The New York Post reported that McGurk, upon the prompting of Lee’s sister, Stephanie, apologized to the family for his crime.

“I hope in the years to come God will help you through this,” McGurk said. “Michelle is safe with him now. I don’t ask forgiveness because I don’t deserve any.”

McGurk and Lee met as students of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. After graduation, Lee went on to work as a civilian criminologist for the city Police Department Queens Lab.

The Post reported Lee had swindled thousands of dollars from Lee by lying to her that he had stage IV cancer, which had spread to his kidneys, liver and lungs, had no insurance and no longer took his medication.

In Lee’s personal journal entries, which were read to the courtroom at the sentencing, Lee called McGurk “brave” in the face of his cancer. She also expressed love for McGurk days before her murder.

“I’m trying to figure out the right time to tell him I love him,” Lee wrote in her journal. “I truly do.”

The Queens district attorney’s office said that on April 27, 2009, Lee’s roommate, with whom she shared a third-floor apartment in Sunnyside, found her body tied to her bed. She had been stabbed and slashed as well as hit over the head with a hammer and burned.

McGurk also admitted he altered the condition and position of Lee’s body, tampered with her blood and sent a message to his own phone from hers. He took Lee’s phone with him as he left the scene of the crime.

The Post reported Queens Assistant District Attorney Charles Testagrossa, who prosecuted the case, called the incident a “heartbreaking” and “senseless” crime.

Queens Supreme Court Justice Gregory Lasak said the sentencing — 25 years for manslaughter and consecutive terms of 1 1/3 to four years on the tampering charges — was less than what McGurk deserved, but was given because McGurk pleaded guilty without making Lee’s family go through a trial.

“You deserve a life sentence, Mr. McGurk,” Lasak said. “You know that.”

Brown attributed the conviction and sentencing to the teamwork of the law enforcement community.

“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,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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