Woman admits killing bigamist husband

April 25, 2008 9:16:15 PM PDT
In the months after allowing her husband to take a second wife, Myra Morton was growing more and more resentful of the arrangement. The 48-year-old Morton hit her breaking point hours before her bigamist spouse was to board a flight to Morocco to impregnate his younger bride, whom he had sent thousands of dollars.

Morton shot her husband of 25 years, Jereleigh Morton, twice in the head with his own gun as he slept in August. She pleaded guilty Friday to third-degree murder and faces about five to 20 years in prison.

"This is a classic case of 'one can only be pushed so far,"' defense attorney Timothy Woodward said. "Everybody has their point. And Myra was pushed to that limit. There's only so much one can expect a woman to endure."

Myra Morton initially blamed the killing on an intruder. Her attorneys now acknowledge the crime was intentional, but said it stemmed from the damaged psyche of a humiliated, middle-aged woman still depressed over the death of a teenage child years earlier.

Morton spent about 20 years working at Temple University as a secretary before she and her husband, a handyman, received a reported $8 million medical settlement in 2005 over their daughter's death. They moved with their surviving daughter from a North Philadelphia row house to a $1 million home in the tree-lined suburb of Blue Bell.

"The idea that this man was now going to marry another woman, and provide her with money that came from a dead child's lawsuit recovery, was too much to bear," defense lawyer Brian McMonagle said.

"That's why we were able to convince prosecutors that it wasn't a cold-blooded, premeditated murder," McMonagle said.

In late 2006, Jereleigh Morton met a Moroccan woman on the Internet and soon arranged to marry her.

The Mortons had converted to Islam about 20 years ago and, in keeping with Muslim custom, Myra Morton traveled to Morocco to bless his March 2007 marriage to 37-year-old Zahra Toural. But police say Morton grew to resent the arrangement, at least in part because her husband was sending Toural $3,000 a month.

Her husband, 47, allegedly told her to divorce him if she didn't like it, police said.

As part of her guilty plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek more than a 10-year prison term, although a judge can send her to prison for up to 20 years. Sentencing was deferred for several months while a pre-sentence report is prepared.

"Today is the first step toward really getting to the truth of the case," Assistant District Attorney Steven Latzer said Friday.

Third-degree murder in Pennsylvania involves malice, an element that separates it from manslaughter.

"We always said it was a murder case," Latzer said. "She pleaded to murder today."

The Mortons' adult daughter and her family are slated to inherit the Mortons' assets under a law that prevents killers from profiting from their crimes, Latzer said. Woodward said he didn't know how much money remained.

"All she (Morton) cares about are that her daughter and her granddaughter get their inheritance, and are provided for," McMonagle said. "That is always a concern, particularly when you have so many hands reaching for this money."

Toural recently filed a defamation lawsuit against Myra Morton, charging that she falsely told the U.S. State Department that Toural had terrorist ties in an effort to keep her out of the country.

In a response filed this week, Myra Morton argues that Toural recklessly interfered with her marriage and her emotional well-being, and therefore owes the defendant damages.

According to the response, Jereleigh Morton withdrew $279,000 from their joint checking account to buy a house in Morocco in which Toural now lives. She also challenges the validity of Toural's marriage and faults her for making plans to come to the U.S.

She said Morton seemed to like Morocco, brought gifts for Toural's family and helped her improve her English.

Islam allows men to marry up to four women, provided they secure the approval of their other wives and are able to provide equally for all of them.