A former Fairfax County, Virginia, woman was sentenced to life in prison Monday for killing her mother and sister and staging the scene to look like a murder-suicide as part of a scheme to steal more than $400,000 to pay for a new home.
A Fairfax County jury found Megan Hargan, 39, of West Virginia, guilty of two counts of first degree murder nearly five years after police discovered Pamela Hargan, 63, and Helen Hargan, 23, dead from gunshot wounds to the head in the large, yellow home they then shared with Megan.
Fairfax County police initially declared that Helen had killed Pamela before turning the gun on herself, shortly after the July 2017 slayings. But during a sprawling 16-month investigation that followed, detectives pieced together clues that pointed to a stunning twist: Megan Hargan had actually killed both.
Fairfax County prosecutors unspooled the plot during the 13-day trial, building a case that relied on a range of circumstantial evidence. They contended she impersonated her mother to steal nearly $420,000 to cover the costs of closing on her home, which was slated to occur at the time of the slayings.
Megan then shot Pamela and Helen with a .22 caliber rifle to keep them from interfering with her plan. Prosecutors said she staged the scene inside the home, sent fake text messages and made up a false story that painted Helen as the culprit.
“It was the defendant who had embarked on a multi-day theft and was caught on the very day she needed the money,” said Fairfax County Senior Commonwealth’s Attorney Tyler Bezilla during his closing argument.
Prosecutors contended the tragedy was set in motion a month before the July 14, 2017 slayings. They told jurors Megan falsely used her mother’s bank account to prove she had the money to put a bid on a house. At the time, Megan had just $30 to her name.
Megan Hargan was between jobs, but her mother had been a successful vice president of human resources for the government contractor SAIC and had hundreds of thousands of dollars in various bank accounts. Helen was a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University.
Prosecutors said in court that Megan Hargan began to feel pressure to come up with the money, so the day before the killings she fraudulently tried to transfer nearly $420,000 from her mother’s bank account to her title company. But her plan was foiled when Pamela’s bank alerted her and she put a freeze on the funds.
The next day the slayings unfolded in part on a series of harrowing phone calls Helen placed from the family home to her boyfriend, Carlos Gutierrez, in Texas. Gutierrez fought to keep his composure as he testified to his final conversations with the woman he planned to marry.
The first call came around 11:30 a.m. on July 14, 2017.
“She told me her sister had killed her mother,” Gutierrez said of Helen. “She sounded frightened and scared. I could hear her mouth trembling and she was sobbing.”
Gutierrez told jurors Helen said Megan was downstairs “transferring money on the computer.” At the same time, prosecutors said investigators later discovered Pamela’s computer was accessing her bank account to transfer more than $400,000 to Megan’s title company.
In a call to Gutierrez that followed, Helen told him he could hear her mother dying, Gutierrez testified. Gutierrez urged Helen to get out of the home, but Helen said she was concerned for Megan’s daughter, who was also inside. Other calls followed but eventually Gutierrez couldn’t reach Helen.
Sometime around 1 p.m., prosecutors said Megan shot Helen. And around 1:15 p.m., Gutierrez said he began to get a series of puzzling texts from Helen’s phone that he ultimately concluded Megan had sent, imitating his girlfriend.
“Everything is fine,” one read. “I’m not mad at Megan.”
Megan left the home a short time later and Gutierrez called 911 and summoned police. Officers found Pamela Hargan wrapped in a bloody blanket in a mud room, while Helen was dead in an upstairs bathroom with a gun between her legs.
Megan told detectives in an interview after the killings that trouble began the day of the killings.
She said that Helen was upset because her mother had announced she was canceling plans to build Helen a home because her daughter was planning on having her boyfriend move in with her. Megan said Pamela did not like Gutierrez. The interview was played in court.
“I love Helen, but something has really changed in her over the last couple months,” Megan Hargan said in the interview.
Police announced the slayings were a murder-suicide in the days after the killings, but slowly investigators pulled together evidence suggesting a more sinister story.
They found gunshot residue on Megan’s hands, the angles the bullets entered Helen’s skull were not consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and Megan’s DNA was found on the bag for the rifle among other pieces of evidence.
Megan Hargan pleaded not guilty to the murder charges and maintains her innocence, even after the verdict.”This case is not over,” the public defenders representing her wrote in a statement. She will be formally sentenced by a judge on Oct. 28. A judge can decrease the jury’s sentence, but not increase it.
They argued during the trial police had made the right call at the beginning of the case – Helen had shot her mother and killed herself because she was disgruntled over the loss of the home her mother promised to build for her.
They said much of the prosecution’s circumstantial evidence was ambiguous and argued it could point to Helen as the killer. They noted Helen had not summoned police to the home after her mother was shot and there was testimony at trial that Helen was emotionally troubled. They mounted only a short defense for Megan.
“The idea that Megan would kill Pam and she would kill Helen too is pure fantasy,” said public defender Bryan Kennedy in his closing statement.
As the verdict was read, two Hargan relatives clutched each other as they sat at the front of the courtroom. Megan could be seen shuddering next to her attorneys.
Ashley Hargan, another sister of Helen and Megan, testified during the sentencing portion of the hearing that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the slayings.
She said she would only have memories of her sister and mother. “I can’t explain how terrifying it is to know that a murderer is in your family,” Ashley Hargan told jurors. “I was supposed to be there that weekend.”