A former city public-health employee admitted Monday that she fatally shot her onetime boyfriend in the head in 2016 as he was driving her around Germantown after they allegedly had argued about whether to have a baby.
Martina Westcott, 28, showed little emotion while pleading guilty to third-degree murder and related counts, although she did push back against a suggestion from the judge that she intentionally fired at Terrell Bruce, 33, a real estate agent whom she had dated.
"No, I didn't mean to shoot him, no," she told Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn B. Bronson. Ultimately, Westcott agreed that her conduct was reckless and led to Bruce's death.
Bruce's sister, Natalye Kirkland, 31, said after the hearing that it was difficult seeing Westcott admit to her actions but that she felt justice had been served.
"She took someone who was great from this world," Kirkland said, calling her brother "an amazing person" with a great sense of humor who cared deeply for his large extended family.
Bruce's twin brother, Brandon S. Bruce, said in a telephone interview Monday that he considered it a "slap in the face" that Westcott was allowed to plead guilty to third-degree murder instead of going to trial for first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Brandon Bruce, an attorney in San Diego, said he believed the case had been compromised because authorities mishandled the interrogation of Westcott after her arrest.
"She should be in jail for life," Bruce said.
Court records indicate the judge ruled for the defense in its bid to exclude Westcott's police statement from being presented at trial.
On Monday, without explaining their rationale, prosecutors agreed to forgo a trial on the higher murder charge and allow Westcott to plead to the lesser count and several weapons charges, eliminating the possibility of life without parole. Assistant District Attorney Danielle Burkavage said prosecutors had not agreed to recommend a prison sentence of any specific length, leaving Westcott's fate to Bronson at a sentencing hearing in August. She faces up to 57 years in prison.
Before the arrest, Westcott had been working as an entry-level disease surveillance investigator at the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office in the city's Department of Public Health. She has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in public health from Thomas Jefferson University.
Westcott was accused of shooting Bruce in the head as he was driving her on the 500 block of West Walnut Lane on Dec. 27, 2016. Burkavage said in court Monday that Bruce had broken up with Westcott a week earlier, and that she had made several attempts to speak with him and see him in the days leading up to the murder, including calling him three times from a blocked phone number.
After Westcott shot Bruce, around 12:30 p.m., he crashed the Ford Expedition SUV and she climbed out, throwing some of her clothes over a bridge and then walking to her mother's house in Roxborough. Bruce was declared dead at the scene.
Westcott turned herself in to police a day later. According to testimony from her preliminary hearing last year, she told detectives that she shot Bruce because she had been fearful of him. She told detectives that they had been arguing over whether to have a baby — and that he wanted one but she did not. She pointed the gun at him to scare him, she told detectives, then pulled the trigger.
Witnesses to the car crash told authorities that they saw Westcott walk from the scene and throw her coat over the Walnut Lane Bridge. Police later found the coat and the gun she used, which Burkavage said in court was registered to Westcott and purchased about a month before the slaying.
Westcott told Bronson that she had been treated for bipolar disorder but was not currently taking medication for it.
Bruce, a real estate agent from East Mount Airy, had attended La Salle and Drexel Universities. Kirkland, his sister, said he had about 20 nieces and nephews.
Brandon S. Bruce said he established and now chairs a memorial fund in his brother's name that supports various causes, including providing scholarships to Philadelphia high school students.