After three days of deliberation, a Burlington County Superior Court jury found Laura Bluestein, 31, guilty of first-degree aggravated manslaughter and evidence tampering in the Aug. 6, 2017, shooting death of her wife, Felicia Dormans, 29, in the bedroom of their Mt. Holly, New Jersey home.
Prosecutors had argued for first-degree murder as well as weapons offenses, but the jury acquitted Bluestein of both the murder charge and the gun charge. Dormans was, according to her mother, Christine Dormans, a victim of domestic violence. Felicia Dormans had called her mother earlier the day of the shooting to say the couple had broken up.
Christine Dormans, a former court reporter, had urged her daughter to “get out of there.”
That was the last conversation she had with her daughter before Felicia Dormans was shot to death by Bluestein. In July, Dormans said her daughter told her that despite the problems in the relationship, Felicia wanted to “work things out, not just walk away from the marriage.”
According to Christine Dormans, Bluestein had texted her to say that the couple were working things out after Felicia had called her mother about the breakup. Shortly thereafter, Felicia Dormans was dead.
During the trial, Bluestein’s attorney, Robin Lord, argued that the shooting was accidental. In a 100-minute taped interview the night of the shooting, Bluestein told police after her arrest that the gun had “gone off” after she had loaded it for Dormans in their bedroom. Crying through the interview, Bluestein called Dormans “my soulmate.” Bluestein asserted that she would never have shot her wife intentionally.
Bluestein told investigators that she and Dormans had met when they were 17, but they had each moved, falling out of touch. They began dating again around 2014, having reconnected on Tinder. Bluestein said the couple married in 2016. She said the two argued a lot over small household issues as well as money. Bluestein worked construction, but Dormans was unemployed.
In the statement to investigators from the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mt. Holly Police Department, Bluestein said her wife had bought a gun some months earlier for protection. Dormans kept the weapon on her side of the bed. Bluestein said her wife had always had difficulty loading the gun.
On the day of the shooting, the couple was in their bedroom when Bluestein told investigators Dormans handed her the gun and wanted Bluestein to load more bullets into it.
According to Bluestein’s statement, Dormans was sitting on the floor about “5 to 6 feet away,” and Bluestein was sitting on their bed, “just looking at the gun sights.” Bluestein had the gun raised and pointed above Dormans when “the next thing I know, she was bleeding out of her eye.”
Bluestein said, “Yes, I did shoot her, but it was an accident.”
Assistant Prosecutor Jeremy Lackey argued that Bluestein had been much closer to the victim and that the shooting was not accidental but intentional. Burlington County Medical Examiner Ian Hood testified to the autopsy results. Hood asserted that Dormans had “gunpowder stippling on her face.” Hood also estimated that the gun had been between 1½ to 2 feet from Dormans’ face when she was shot, not the 5 to 6 feet Bluestein claimed.
In her video statement, Bluestein described rushing to Dormans to try and stop the bleeding. She said she knew Dormans was dead. Rather than call 911, Bluestein, who said she “was scared,” and “an emotional wreck,” called both of her parents. She told them “Felicia’s dead.”
Prosecutors played surveillance video of what Bluestein did next: she went to Lowe’s and bought two shovels and blue tarps. Prosecutors said that once she got back home, Bluestein dug a grave in the couple’s yard for her wife’s body.
During the first day of deliberations, jurors asked, “Does the extreme indifference to human life apply to the act or also to things she did after the act?” New Jersey state law lists “extreme indifference to human life” as a factor that jurors must find to convict a defendant of aggravated manslaughter. To find someone guilty of murder, jurors have to be convinced a defendant killed someone “purposefully and knowingly.”
When police arrived at the couple’s house on the day of the shooting, having been notified of the killing by Bluestein’s father, they found a partially dug grave in the couple’s yard covered by blue tarps.
Lackey had sought a murder conviction in the case. Lackey told the media after the verdict that Bluestein faces up to 30 years in prison for the first-degree manslaughter charge and five years for the evidence tampering charge. Bluestein has been in custody since her arrest in 2017. In a statement after the verdict, prosecutor Scott Coffina explained that help is available for victims of domestic abuse and their children and offered local resources.
Dormans family was relieved by the verdict. Coffina was seen comforting Dormans’ father, Joe. Christine Dormans told media that she was happy for the verdict. “We wanted anything but her walking,” she said.
Defense attorney Robin Lord told media Bluestein and her family were “extremely distraught that the jury found her guilty of anything.” She said she plans to appeal Bluestein’s conviction.
Superior Court Judge Terrence Cook scheduled Bluestein’s sentencing for April 23.