Mother of three admits conspiring with young lover to kill husband
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
By the end of the hour-long proceeding Tuesday, a West Goshen woman had pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of her husband more than two years ago, and most of the crowded courtroom was either sobbing or fighting back tears.
The proceeding – on the day the second trial of Morgan M. Mengel had been scheduled to start – marked the end of an emotional roller coaster for the family and friends of Kevin Mengel Jr. The 33-year-old landscaper and devoted father, was fatally bludgeoned on June 17, 2010, after an effort to poison him by spiking his favorite Snapple failed.
Both the prosecutor and the judge said in their collective 70 years of criminal law, Mengel’s case stood out for its depravity, Decrying the loss of society’s moral compass, Senior Judge Thomas G. Gavin called the 37-year-old defendant’s actions “beyond my ability to comprehend.” Chief Deputy District Attorney Patrick Carmody likened her to Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth – without the guilt.
Before Gavin imposed the sentence – first-degree murder carries a mandatory life term – Carmody presented the facts of the case, a requirement that typically takes a few minutes. Outlining the convolutions that led to Mengel’s arrest and conviction took more than 15 minutes.
Carmody explained that Kevin Mengel’s family became worried that he had met with foul play when he failed to show up for a Father’s Day celebration and they began receiving text messages from him that sounded as if they were written by someone else. Kevin Mengel was already dead, Carmody said, the victim of a conspiracy between his wife and her young lover, Stephen Shappell, 23, a worker at the Mengels’ landscaping business in West Goshen Township.
Morgan Mengel was sending the texts to keep relatives from getting suspicious and contacting police, an effort that failed, Carmody said. Even worse, she blamed Kevin Mengel’s “disappearance” on her mother-in-law, and she had the couple’s three children, who were 6, 10, and 12 at the time, send Father’s Day messages to their dad, he said. Carmody said she was also texting Shappell, communication that ultimately gave investigators a “play-by-play of the murder.”
According to Carmody, the case was replete with examples of Morgan Mengel’s heartlessness. He said Shappell would have testified that she scurried around her husband’s body without emotion as she cleaned up the murder scene and joked about becoming a spokesperson for Snapple . The day she and Shappell planned to skip town, she lied to get childcare but left her sleeping children without even saying goodbye.
By now, detectives were a step ahead, Carmody said. When the couple stopped at the landscaping business, authorities were waiting. As Morgan Mengel talked to one officer, Shappell sped off but was subsequently apprehended in Colorado. He will be sentenced at a later date to a 40- to 80-year prison term.
The deceit did not end once the defendants were behind bars, Carmody said. Morgan Mengel tried to use Shappell’s interest in having a family to her advantage. She lied that she was pregnant with his twins in prison, and even sent him a bogus birth announcement with names and weights, hoping to persuade him to take the rap so she could raise their children, Carmody said.
Evocative victim-impact statements followed Carmody’s recitation. Kevin Mengel’s parents, Kathleen Barton and Kevin Mengel Sr.; his sister, Michele Hopkins; and his brother, Chris Mengel, each read statements, and poignant letters submitted by each of the victim’s children were also read. All described the horrific loss of someone who was passionately committed to his family. About 40 friends and relatives surrounded Kevin Mengel’s parents in the courtroom; Morgan Mengel’s mother was accompanied by half a dozen supporters.