Helfrich
Helfrich

It took jurors less than an hour to decide Thursday that they didn't believe a former York City woman's claim that she mistook her live-in boyfriend for an intruder when she shot him at least seven times, killing him.

A jury of eight women and four men found Joann Helfrich, 51, guilty of first-degree murder, the most severe crime they were given to deliberate.

Helfrich admitted to shooting 59-year-old Fred A. McClure in the couple's apartment at 404 Piedmont Circle on the afternoon of Oct. 12, 2010, but she maintained she didn't realize it was him.

A third-shift worker, she said she was sleeping and heard a noise shortly before 4 p.m. She went to the top of the stairs to investigate, but the apartment was dark and all she could see was a pant leg and a boot. She called out to ask who was there and, when the man didn't answer, she fired the gun several times, she told police.

When she turned on a light, she realized whom she'd shot, she said in an interrogation video.

McClure was pronounced dead at the scene and had eight gunshot wounds, including in the chest, back, and cheek. It wasn't clear whether there were eight shots or if one of the bullets re-entered the body at a second location, according to expert testimony.

Chief deputy prosecutor Jennifer Russell rested her case Thursday afternoon after jurors viewed more than an hour of video from Helfrich's interrogation. In the courtroom, Helfrich could be seen shaking and crying as she watched herself describing how she turned on a light and realized she had shot the man she loved.

Defense attorneys David Dagle and Matthew Monaghan rested without putting on a defense, declining to call any witnesses, including Helfrich.

Dagle tried to make the case for mistaken identity in his closing arguments, saying Helfrich was crying and hysterical when she called 911 and reported she had accidentally shot her boyfriend.

"That doesn't sound like someone who intended to kill Fred McClure ..." he said.

Dagle said she cared deeply for the man, as was evidenced by a tender text message exchange earlier in the day. In the message, she told the man, who was suffering from heart problems, that she was worried about him. She also, after having realized she shot McClure, attempted to roll the face-down man over so she could try to save him, Dagle said.

There was no financial or other motive, he told the jury.

"She had nothing to gain but everything to lose," Dagle said. "He was the man she loved."

But in her closing, Russell said phone logs showed the woman wasn't asleep all day as she had said, and the bed was made when police arrived.

She said police officers who responded to the scene said there was natural light in the apartment, and no artificial light was needed to see clearly.

Russell told jurors Helfrich also disposed of several shell casings in a kitchen garbage can, and asked, "Why would you do that if this was just all an accident?"

Helfrich pulled the trigger seven or eight times, needing to assert 6 pounds of pressure on the trigger each time she did so, Russell argued. She said expert testimony showed some of the shots were fired while Helfrich stood over her boyfriend, whom she was planning to leave.

And despite claiming an attempt to revive the extremely bloody man, there was only a single, small spatter of blood on Helfrich, Russell said.

A verdict of first-degree murder means jurors believed Helfrich intended to kill McClure and that it was a "willful, deliberate, and premeditated act," Common Pleas Judge Gregory Snyder explained in jury instructions.

The jury could also have found her guilty or 3rd-degree murder, characterized by "wanton and willful disregard" resulting in death. They could've sided with the least of the three possible charges, voluntary manslaughter, which would've shown they believed Helfrich thought McClure was an intruder.

Sentencing is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Monday, Nov. 26,. before Snyder, in Courtroom 1 at the York County Judicial Center.