NEW YORK – Michelle Lee's career was solving crimes. Working as a forensic investigator for the New York Police Department, she was training to do the type of "CSI" work made famous on television.
But the 24-year-old became a victim of a crime herself, stabbed to death in her bed, her naked body found in a pool of blood. Using the same investigative techniques Lee was learning, authorities on Friday arrested her ex-lover Gary McGurk in the case, charging him with second-degree murder.
McGurk pleaded not guilty and was being held without bail. His attorney, Joseph Corozzo said his client was innocent.
"This is a gruesome crime, but my client is not responsible for it," he said. "We look forward to seeing the purported evidence in this case."
Lee had recently moved out of her parent's home and was living in Sunnyside, Queens, a quaint neighborhood of working-class families. She started working for the NYPD last September and was training in forensic investigations at a police lab analyzing evidence like hair samples, drugs, gunshot residues and bodily fluids. She was going to specialize in narcotics.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described her as a "very talented young woman."
The weekend of her death, her roommate was out of town. She returned Sunday, April 26, and thinking Lee must've been sleeping, she didn't bother to say hello. When she wasn't up the next morning, the roommate peeked into Lee's room and discovered the grisly scene. Lee was naked and had been tied to her bed, a knife jutted out of her neck. Her chest had been burned with an iron. Investigators would later say she was hit with a blunt instrument before she was stabbed.
There was no sign of forced entry. She was last seen leaving the gym in her neighborhood around 5 p.m. the Saturday before her roommate discovered her body.
Police offered a $12,000 reward for any information leading to her death. Meanwhile, investigators probed the case, talking to her friends and acquaintances. Lab workers — though none of Lee's co-workers — analyzed forensic evidence from the scene.
Weeks went by, and one person's story didn't quite add up, according to police and prosecutors. McGurk, a 23-year-old Irish-born student at John Jay Criminal College, was apparently the last person to have contact with her, and his statements kept changing, investigators said.
The two had met at the John Jay athletic center in 2004, where she also attended, and he asked her out. But dating didn't work, and so they were "friends with benefits," according to his statement to police. He claimed they had rough sex — tied each other up, choked each other, that sort of thing, according to court documents.
"Sweet girl. Friends first, herself last," McGurk said in a statement to police. "She told me that she made bad decisions. I told her that I was a bad decision, joking."
After he started dating another girl, their relationship cooled but they still spoke regularly. They chatted online the Saturday before she was found dead. And he was apparently upset investigators didn't contact him immediately, according to court documents.
She also owed him at least $2,000, he said. McGurk had lied to Lee, telling her he was sick with cancer and needed the money immediately. She didn't have it, he said.
His statements to police on how much he owed her and how much she had paid kept changing, along with when and where he last saw her, according to court documents. Forensic evidence also tied him to the scene, but police wouldn't get into details.
McGurk was charged Friday by District Attorney Richard Brown with second-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon.
He maintains his innocence.
"If I were to have done this to Michelle I would not only embarrass myself but I would also embarrass my family," McGurk said, according to court documents. "I did not go into her apartment. She had company. You don't like it but you accept it."
He is due in court June 4. He faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
In his court statements, McGurk said he is scheduled to graduate May 28, but he wasn't sure he could handle the life of a forensic psychologist.
"I find crime scene photos and cadavers disturbing," he said.