By Brooke Naylor
A confessed murderer was sentenced in 4th District Court Thursday to 20-years, possibly for life, in prison for the Oct. 16 2006 shooting of his girlfriend.
Keith Morton, 50, shot Tonja Marie Nash twice in the back with a shotgun as she and her 8-year-old son Ryan were trying to run away.
The shooting, which began as an argument in the backyard of the couple”s Orem home, quickly escalated when Nash”s 12-year-old son Dakota tried to call the police.
Both sons, who were witnesses to the murder, have been severely scarred by what they saw and are seeing a therapist six days a week, prosecuting attorney Donna Kelly said.
In the their letter to the courts, the Nash family condemned Morton for what he did, but asked the courts not to seek the death penalty. The letter explained that the family does not believe in the death penalty, and for the sake of Morton”s family, would not pursue it.
“Thankfully the court thought Keith”s actions [were] severe enough to carry out a severe sentence,” Kelly said, reading a letter from the Nash family aloud.
Morton was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
A parole board will determine the time he spends in prison based on his behavior. Morton was also ordered to pay $18,176.45 restitution to the Nash family.
Morton spoke to the prosecution, thanking them for not seeking the death penalty and then spoke to his family.
“I know this has been very hard for everyone. I am very sorry and I will be forever,” Morton said. “There”s not a day that goes by that I don”t regret what I”ve done. I wish I could go back in time and have Tonja be here and not me.”
Among those present in court to support Morton were his mother, Faye Cassingham, his ex-wife Dorothy Morton, his brother Jeff and sister Annette, and his two children, Amber, 19, and Tyler, 17.
“In a normal state of mind I would have never done what I did,” Morton said. Morton”s mother said that at the time of the murder, Morton was on bi-polar medication and had taken several Lortab pills.
Following the sentencing, Nash was taken into custody and will be transferred to a Utah State Prison.
“This is a sad day for the courts and a terrible circumstance for every single person involved” Judge James R. Taylor said.
Friends and family of Morton say his actions were extremely out of character. Dorothy, who was married to him for 26 years, said she never saw him act violently.
“People need to stop the judging” she said. “People say he must be a horrible animal to do what he did. He”s not a bad person. Please stop judging.”
Morton pleaded guilty to aggravated murder on March 15.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Morton said Thursday. “And may God forgive me.”
* BYU Student Arrested
Eighteen-year-old BYU student Nathan S. Chamberlain was arrested April 23 on suspicion of aggravated arson after a fire was started in May Hall of Helaman Halls, where the suspect lived. Chamberlain, who was released from Utah County jail on a $25,000 cash-only bond, will make his initial appearance in 4th District Court on Tuesday.
* John Doe Identified
The identity of an Orem accident victim was discovered Thursday after the Orem Department of Public Safety released pictures of the victim”s tattoos. A 17-year-old Orem girl hit
Timmy Gathos, 38, as he was attempting to cross the street on 100 E. Center St. Gathos, who suffered broken bones and a head injury, was in critical condition at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.
* Hit and Run Driver Arrested
Springville Police arrested two brothers in connection with a hit-and-run accident after the burned remnants of their vehicle was discovered at the bottom of an embankment in Spanish Fork Canyon. Edwin Ruiz-Gomez allegedly hit 15-year-old Joshua Evans on April 15 as Evans was riding his bike. Gomez and his brother, Aldo-Ruiz Gomez, pushed their vehicle over an embankment to cover any evidence, police said. Both men were arrested April 17 on multiple charges, including leaving the scene of an injury accident and obstruction of justice. Gomez and his brother are illegal immigrants, police said.