Woman pleads guilty to manslaughter, says her fiancé abused her

Nov. 10—A Knoxville woman who was charged with murdering her fiance in 2020 pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a lesser charge.

Michelle Leigh Handorf, 39, is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 17, 2023 — nearly three years from the date of the crime — for one count each of voluntary manslaughter and use of a firearm in a violent crime.

Handorf was originally charged with first- and second-degree murder, and use of a firearm in a violent crime, according to charging documents.

In charging documents, Handorf alleges long-term abuse from her fiance, Wesley Alan Gibson, which escalated in the days before she shot him.

"She said she just wanted him to stop hurting her," Kirsten Brown, a deputy state's attorney with the Frederick County State's Attorney's Office, said as she read facts of the case.

The state will be arguing for 15 years of incarceration for Handorf, Brown said during the proceedings.

Handorf's attorney, Joseph Murtha, said that Handorf understood the consequences of her actions, and that the plea agreement was her best option.

"It was a tragic event that came as a result of years of abuse," he said after the hearing.

The case was heard by Frederick County Circuit Court Judge Theresa M. Adams.

In charging documents, Handorf said that Gibson was emotionally and physically abusive toward her. He threatened to kill her multiple times in the days leading up to the incident, charging documents said.

On Jan. 28, 2020, Handorf took Gibson's handgun while he was showering and hid it, charging documents said. Gibson demanded to know where the gun was.

After she went to go get the gun, Handorf allegedly told police that Gibson got "a crazy look in his eye." Handorf fired one shot in his chest as he stepped toward her, charging documents say.

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