Norristown Man Guilty Of Murder Jorge Munoz Was The Second Man To Be Convicted In Christopher Mcnelly's Death.

Posted: May 25, 1998

A Montgomery County jury quickly deliberated a Norristown murder and left for Memorial Day weekend destinations, while Jorge ``George'' Munoz left the courthouse Friday as a convicted murderer facing mandatory life in prison, with no chance of parole.

The jurors convicted Munoz of first-degree murder and related charges in the shooting of Christopher McNelly, a 20-year factory worker and father of infant twins who died on a Norristown sidewalk a few weeks before Christmas in 1996 with a three-inch bullet hole in his chest.

The jury's finding - after a week of testimony and less than an hour of deliberations - was not a big surprise after another defendant, Victor Rodriguez, was convicted of first-degree murder in March for ordering Munoz to fire the shot. It took that jury less than two hours to convict Rodriguez, who like Munoz admitted being a member of a New York gang called the Latin Kings.

However, in court, the sobbing 19-year-old Munoz did not look like a typical gang member. He repeatedly said he was scared when he shot and killed McNelly. Unlike Rodriguez, who struck the pose of a street fighter ready for the next punch when Judge Samuel W. Salus 2d sentenced him to life in prison, Munoz cried after the jury's decision. While Rodriguez was escorted only by his attorney, Munoz's relatives were present - and were visibly shaken by the verdict.

But McNelly's family was relieved. ``Now, he can rest in peace,'' said McNelly's mother, Carol Schouwe of East Norriton.

McNelly's 22-year-old widow, Heather Pierce, who sat through both trials, said, ``I'm glad my sons won't ever have to see the two men who killed their father.''

The two trials were similar in many ways. Both juries heard how the 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun was purchased in a Norristown alley. They heard about the gang-related violence - the street fights, the intimidation, the codes and uniforms - all of which played a part in the shooting that December evening. And the jurors heard from three eyewitnesses to the murder, including an off-duty Norristown parking attendant who had stopped at a traffic light near the intersection where McNelly was shot.

Munoz testified that the shooting was in self-defense because he knew that McNelly was armed with a pistol. And he said many of the eyewitness accounts were false - alleged lies that seemed numerous as Assistant District Attorney J.P. Mascaro 3d made a list of them on a poster for the jury.

Munoz's attorney, Carol A. Sweeney, said on Friday that he would appeal the conviction after reviewing the case further.

But according to Assistant District Attorney Mary C. Fittipaldi, ``Justice was done. It was a cold-blooded murder.''

``The swiftness of both jury convictions proves our theory,'' said Mascaro, ``that it was nothing more than a gang-related execution.''

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