2016-12-10 / Front Page

Killer, victim argued prior to stabbing

Michael Courtney will face first degree murder charges for the Oct. 26 throat-slashing death of Deborah Gerlach, 45.Michael Courtney will face first degree murder charges for the Oct. 26 throat-slashing death of Deborah Gerlach, 45.
Testimony presented during a preliminary hearing for the man accused of killing an Emporium woman at her South Wood Street home revealed that the defendant and victim had argued prior to her death.

Michael F. Courtney, 34, of Emporium, is accused of the Oct. 26 murder of 45-year-old Deborah Lynn Gerlach.

District Judge Barry Brown ordered charges of first degree murder, third degree murder and aggravated assault bound over. Second degree murder charges were withdrawn.

The defendant is represented by death penalty-certified attorney Fred Hummel Jr. of Punxsutawney.

Hummel asked for the first degree murder charge to be thrown out, asserting that a jury could not reasonably find that his client acted with premeditation.

Cameron County District Attorney Jeanne Miglicio vehemently disagreed, stating that Courtney’s admission that an argument took place and the nature of the wound supported the charge.

“This was more than premeditated; it was a willful and deliberate,” Miglicio said. “The graphic evidence of the significant size of the wound speaks volumes. A cut of that magnitude shows extreme indifference to human life.”

Judge Brown concurred with the prosecution stating, ”I’m of the opinion that the statement offered by the defendant referring to the argument satisfies the elements of first degree murder.”

Cpl. Sean Batterson of the Pa. State Police described the primary wound to Gerlach’s neck as being over six inches long, from the left side of her neck to the hairline on her right side. A second stabbing wound was about an inch long and penetrated about an inch into the victim’s neck.

Emporium Borough Police and Pa. State Police responded to a call from an employee at the Sheetz convenience store. The caller reported that Courtney had entered the store with blood on his hands and clothing, claiming to have killed a woman.

When police arrived, Courtney approached officers with his hands in the air, declaring, “I cut her.”

He then led police on foot to the scene, where officers were forced to break down the front door to gain entry.

Courtney told police that he and Gerlach had been playing a game of “Tit for Tat.” It involved poking the edge of a knife into the throat area of the person playing and then using additional pressure after each turn until either participant quit.

When it came time for Gerlach to take her turn, Courtney told police he said, “Let me do it,” at which time he accidentally put the sharpened edge of his utility knife to her throat and pressed, inadvertently stabbing her. He also admitted to consuming illegal drugs and a large amount of alcohol before the stabbing.

Courtney said he tried to perform CPR on Gerlach and attempted to use a scarf to stem the flow of blood before leaving the home.

Courtney is being held without bail in the McKean County Jail. His arraignment has been scheduled for Dec. 20 at 9 am at the Cameron County Courthouse.

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