Despite being known for always having a smile on her face, Morgan McCaffery was privately dealing with a teen relationship that had very disturbing complications.
It was June 2020, and Morgan, 18, had been dating her boyfriend Gilbert Newton III for a year. Although they had broken up a few times, many of Morgan’s friends and family weren’t aware it was a turbulent union. Newton, 19, could be aggressive when he didn’t get his own way.
Popular Morgan had just graduated from Nazareth Academy High School – a private Catholic school in Philadelphia. After the summer, she was going to attend Manor College to study dentistry. Newton also had plans to go to college.
Perhaps the change inspired Morgan to make a fresh start in other areas of her life too. She ended her relationship with Newton, but he wasn’t so keen to move on. He sent messages begging her to take him back. When he didn’t get the responses he wanted, he’d send insults and threats.
Morgan confided in a friend that Newton had been abusive during their relationship but didn’t say just how out of hand he was getting.
She had also started seeing someone new and Newton was unhappy about it. Morgan blocked him on her social media and on her phone. She also wrote on Instagram, “You cannot change people, no matter how much you think they need to change.” Was Morgan talking about Newton? It would be one of her last posts.
On the morning of 27 July 2020, police responded to an emergency call at around 8.15am. They arrived at the Meadowbrook train station in suburban Philadelphia. They found Morgan’s blue SUV with the engine running in the station car park.
Next to the car was Morgan’s bleeding body. She was on her back with more than 30 stab and slash wounds to her neck and stomach, and scrapes on her arms. Two bloodied knives lay on the floor.
Tragically, Morgan couldn’t be saved. The area was turned into a crime scene and a police investigation began. A witness said they saw a white Jeep driving away from the scene at speed.
Within two hours, there was another lead. The police were called by a woman who said her son was covered in blood, and he was claiming he’d hurt a young woman.
When officers arrived at the house in north-west Philadelphia, they saw a white Jeep parked outside and there was blood on the vehicle. Inside the house, they found Newton sitting on a sofa with blood all over his clothes. There were also injuries on his hands – including a cut. Newton admitted that he had stabbed Morgan and was arrested.
Investigators determined that Newton had asked Morgan to meet him at the secluded parking lot at 7.30am. He’d said that he wanted to talk about their break-up. He’d brought with him two kitchen knives from his home and hid them inside the pocket in his hoodie.
Newton was charged with Morgan’s murder and her family were left devastated by her death. Hundreds of mourners turned out to release balloons in her memory.
A bright light had gone out – and everyone had questions.
At the trial in September this year, Newton took the stand to explain his version of events. He admitted he’d arranged to meet Morgan to “see if she still cared” about him. He’d seen a picture of her with another man on her social media and wanted to know if they were dating.
Newton said he’d taken the knives to kill himself – and to see if she would stop him and show she still cared. But Newton testified that they’d got into an argument after he called her a derogatory name. Morgan allegedly slapped him and spat on him, and he’d got angry.
“I had so much running through my mind,” he said. “I was supposed to stab myself, but as soon as she slapped me and spat on me, I thought, ‘She must not care about me’.”
Newton said that was when he pulled out the knives. “Instantly I just started stabbing,” he said.
The prosecution disputed his testimony. They said that Newton had armed himself with the two knives that he’d grabbed from the kitchen in order to harm Morgan. And he’d even told her of his plans.
There were also some shocking revelations about text messages Newton had sent to Morgan and his mum in the month leading up to the attack. “I’ll cut her head off,” one read. “I’m really going to kill her.”
In another he wrote, “I will stab her 57 times.” Newton even warned Morgan to keep her “head on a swivel” because he was going to come for her. The prosecution said it showed he had plans to kill Morgan that day.
“He used exact numbers – ‘I want to stab you in the neck 57 times’ – and then the sheer amount of times the defendant stabbed her shows that he intended to kill her,” the prosecution said.
While Newton claimed he didn’t remember any of the details of the killing, he sent another text shortly after stabbing his ex. “I killed Morgan about an hour ago,” it read. “There was no stopping me.”
When confronted with the messages in court, Newton responded that he says things that don’t make sense when he’s upset. He said he loved Morgan and his defence insisted he was an “immature kid” but had a good character.
The prosecution reminded the court that he’d brought two knives to meet Morgan that day and had shown no signs that he was going to take his own life – only that he’d intended to hurt Morgan.
When Newton saw the social media post of Morgan with another man, he had clearly snapped. “That’s when he set out his plan to kill her,” they said. “If he couldn’t have her, nobody could.”
Newton’s lawyer said that he’d been “distraught” during the incident and had been upset by the split but the prosecution argued that he was trying to look like the victim. “It’s all about manipulation, it’s all about him,” they said. “It’s never about Morgan and what he did to her.” They pointed out that Newton remembered Morgan “spat at him and slapped him” but not anything about stabbing her. It didn’t add up.
The jury deliberated for under three hours and found Newton guilty of first-degree murder and possessing an instrument of crime. Newton sat with his head in his hands knowing the mandatory sentence he faced. The judge confirmed it was life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Morgan’s mum, Kathleen, called Newton a “living monster” as she made her statement. “This is a life sentence you have imposed on all of us,” she said to him.
“I hate you. I will always hate you and I will never speak your name again.” She shared the pain over her daughter’s terrified last moments. “I imagine Morgan running from you every single day,” she said.
Outside court, Morgan’s uncle and godfather, Frank McCaffery, thanked the jury. “We are grateful this animal will never walk these streets again,” he said. “Tomorrow we’re going to wake up and begin to write the rest of Morgan’s story because we are determined not to let it end this way.”
Morgan’s family has started a foundation called Morgan’s Light to raise awareness of teen dating violence and to help young people identify when they’re in a toxic relationship. Tragically, Morgan didn’t realised she was in danger until it was too late.
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