An Upstate New York man who originally pleaded not guilty to murdering his pregnant wife changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday. That’s according to reports from several television stations and newspapers in Utica and Syracuse.
The defendant, George McDonald, Jr., then 24, admitted to killing Elizabeth “Lizzie” Garrow, 19, in Sept. 2020, according to Utica NBC affiliate WKTV. Garrow was last seen with McDonald at a Dunkin’ Donuts location on Sept. 23.
The Utica, N.Y., Observer-Dispatch said Garrow’s body later turned up four days later about a half of a mile away. The victim’s body was dumped near an overpass which carries Main Street in Canastota over the New York State Thruway. Twelve police agencies were reportedly part of the search.
WSTM said McDonald was initially charged with seven separate crimes: second-degree murder, first-degree assault, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, aggravated criminal contempt (for allegedly violating an order of protection), two counts of first-degree criminal contempt (for allegedly violating an order of protection and “having physical contact with Garrow”), and criminal obstruction of breathing (from a previous incident). He pleaded not guilty in late October 2020.
Assistant District Attorney Bob Mascari of Madison County, N.Y. told WSTM that McDonald had been arrested Sept. 7 for domestic violence.
The Syracuse Post-Standard reported that Garrow’s sisters took the victim to the hospital in early September after McDonald allegedly punched Garrow in the face. The punch came about one week after McDonald was accused of choking Garrow. It is unclear from the report whether law enforcement was involved with the second incident.
Garrow’s sisters told WSTM that Garrow learned she was pregnant at the hospital. According to the Post-Standard, Garrow’s sisters indicated that McDonald continued to beat Garrow while simultaneously claiming he was happy about the pregnancy and interested in trying to make the relationship work. But Garrow would be dead at the end of the month in what appears to have been a rapidly escalating series of events.
“I think what bail reform has done is it has really laid out an absolutely ironclad presumption that you’re going to use the least restrictive alternatives in deciding whether or not somebody should be held,” Mascari told WSTM.
It is unclear from the various reports — several of which outline the sisters’ accusations of multiple incidents of violence — whether law enforcement was involved in each of the alleged incidents. If law enforcement was involved, then New York’s bail reform laws would have given McDonald little protection.
McDonald was initially arrested Sept. 25th on charges that he violated a protective order, the Post-Standard reported last year. But that was after Garrow disappeared.
The other charges soon followed.
Emily Lloyd, one of Garrow’s sisters, criticized the initial charges because she said everyone knew Garrow was pregnant. She considered the pregnancy a likely motive for the slaying.
Lloyd was also upset late last year at McDonald’s initial plea of not guilty.
“We all know he’s guilty,” she told WSTM at the time. “Everybody in here knows he’s guilty, so what’s the point of pleading not guilty when we all know you’re guilty?”
McDonald, now 25, finally admitted to the second-degree murder charge on Wednesday. Under New York law, defendants waive their rights to an appeal when they plead guilty.
Sentencing will occur Oct. 7. The plea deal means McDonald will likely be sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, regional cable channel Spectrum News reported.
The Madison County District Attorney’s Office provided the following statement to local news radio station WIBX to memorialize the plea:
This result was made possible by the outstanding investigative work of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police, the Village of Canastota Police Department, and the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office. Also, not to be overlooked are the many other agencies that tirelessly gave of their time in the search, and ultimate recovery, of Lizzie Garrow. This is a tragic result which has devastated Lizzie Garrow’s family. While nothing our criminal justice system offers approaches the justice they deserve, the family is satisfied with and supportive of this result. It will give them finality in the criminal justice process and allow them to move on to positive ways of honoring Lizzie’s memory.
In addition to being pregnant, Garrow left behind a 1-year-old child, WKTV noted.
Garrow and McDonald had only been married for a few months.
[Image of McDonald via jail mugshot; images of Garrow via Madison County, N.Y. Sheriff’s Department missing persons poster.]
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