MADERA COUNTY – A North Fork couple who pleaded guilty in January to killing the husband’s brother back in 2013 have been sentenced to a combined 30 years in prison.
On Feb. 22 in Madera Superior Court, Judge Rigby sentenced Marc McMurrain, age 37, to 22 years behind bars for voluntary manslaughter. His wife Jennifer McMurrain, 35, was sentenced to 8 years in prison as an accessory to the crime, and several counts of “abusing or endangering the health of children.”
Marc and Jennifer McMurrain were arrested in early September 2013 after the body of Marc’s brother Christopher Garrity was discover stuffed into a barrel on a property adjacent to where they all lived on Willow Creek Drive. Also living in the house were Marc and Christopher’s mother Janet Asten and her husband Steve, and the McMurrain’s four children, ranging in ages from 4 to 12.
Two weeks before the gruesome discovery, Janet Asten had reported Garrity missing after she and her husband returned from an overnight stay in Oakhurst and couldn’t find him. They also noticed that there was a large hole in the wall in Garrity’s bedroom.
When questioned, the McMurrains told sheriff’s deputies that Garrity had been “acting weird” and had just taken off and they didn’t know where he went. Garrity was a registered sex offender and the family said he was prone to bizarre outbursts, and that they weren’t surprised that he would just disappear.
As investigators dug deeper into the case, things just didn’t add up and the stories from the McMurrains kept changing. Jennifer reportedly first told deputies her brother-in-law just left on his own. She later admitted to having an affair with Garrity but said she was afraid Marc would find out, so she broke it off. She said Garrity then “flipped out” and said he was going to kill himself.
Following up on the case, deputies visited the home on Sept. 5 and were allowed to come inside.
“There was trash and debris everywhere,” Madera County Sheriff Homicide Detective John Grayson testified at the preliminary hearing in March 2014. “It was very dirty and cluttered with things most people would throw away; food on the floor growing mold, feces with children’s toys laying in it, and many, many dogs and cats.”
That’s when they discovered blood spatters on the wall of Garrity’s room, and saw that pieces of the carpet had been removed, along with big chunks of the wall. The family claimed that Garrity had punched holes in the wall during one of his many episodes, but investigators saw it as someone trying to clean up after a violent incident, and the major crimes unit was called in.
At that point, deputies no longer believed that Garrity was a missing person, and based on all the evidence and statements from the couple, they took Marc McMurrain, then 35, into custody on suspicion of murder. They then requested a warrant to search to property where the family lived, and the adjacent property. When they returned the next day to execute the warrant, a neighbor finally came forward, telling investigators there was a bad odor coming from the woods down by the creek, some 200 yards behind the home.
Sheriff’s deputies and a Search and Rescue K-9 team searched the property and found a trash can stuffed with pillows and blankets, and the body of Christopher Garrity. The barrel had been taped shut and dragged into the woods next to the north fork of Willow Creek. By then, the advanced state of decomposition made identification of the body difficult. Three days later, it was confirmed to be that of 29-year-old Garrity.
After the discovery of the body, deputies arrested Jennifer McMurrain, 32 at the time, and booked her as an accomplice to murder. They also seized a laptop computer from the home, and what they found on the hard drive would blow the case wide open.
Sheriff’s detectives were stunned to discover a video of the actual moment of the crime, though the quality was fairly bad. So they enlisted the help of the video production crew at Channel 47 to enhance the audio and video quality, spending a full day working with the team at KGPE.
It is not known whether the laptop was meant to record the incident or if that happened by chance. While the audio was not the best quality, one thing that was clear on the recording was the blast from the shotgun that killed the victim.
According to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office, the McMurrain children were home at the time of the killing.
In presenting her case for charges of child endangerment during the preliminary hearing in 2014, Deputy D.A. Traci Wise argued that the children could have been injured during the shooting.
“It’s only by luck that they weren’t shot,” said Wise. “They could have heard the loud noise and went to check things out and saw what their parents were doing.”
Wise also presented evidence that even before the crime, the children were endangered by the conditions in which they lived.
She called two detectives who testified that the property was littered with mounds of trash and debris, broken glass, sharp rusty metal, rotting food and garbage. Both investigators testified that there was feces everywhere, including inside the house where children’s toys were laying among the fecal matter, which was also smeared on the walls.
“Words can’t describe the stench inside that house,” Wise told the judge.
Both defendants have been behind bars since their arrests; Marc held on a $2 million bond, and Jennifer’s set at $1 million.
Marc has a long history of arrests, including willful cruelty to a child, felony child neglect, possession of a controlled substance, drunk and disorderly conduct, parole violation and burglary.
In May 2012, he was arrested for child endangerment when his 8-month-old baby was left unattended and fell out of a van, landing on his head on the concrete parking lot at Bass Lake.
He was also charged with misdemeanor battery when he reportedly attacked reporter Nicole Garcia and cameraman Matt Romero of KMPH Channel 26 as they were covering the story.
Pursuant to the plea agreement, Marc McMurrain will serve 22 years in a California State Prison for the murder of his brother. He will get credit for time served of 34 months.
Jennifer McMurrain, 35, who also goes by the names Patricia Lynn Moore, and Jennifer Patricia Moore, will serve 8 years, with nearly 5 years credit for time served.