Shocked Orem neighbors describe 'loving pair'

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 18 2006 9:15 a.m. MDT

Orem home of Tonja Nash and Keith Morton. Nash was shot and killed Monday. Morton was booked into the Utah County Jail.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — The couple were new to the Orem neighborhood, but when Loretta Zapata saw them, they were always together, either sitting in a porch swing or lying in a hammock, arms wrapped around each other.

Zapata, who lives across the street from the home that is now considered a crime scene, said Tuesday she can't understand why Keith Lamont Morton, 50, would fatally shoot Tonja Marie Nash, his 40-year-old girlfriend.

"They always acted like they were the perfect couple," Zapata told the Deseret Morning News. "We never would have thought that in a million years."

Zapata said she watched in shock as the drama unfolded across the street Monday night. She peered out of her 7-year-old daughter's window after hearing Nash's 8-year-old boy scream, "Help! He's beating my mom!"

Zapata said she saw the couple leave the house and watched in horror as Morton pointed a shotgun at a running Nash — and pulled the trigger.

Nash fell to the ground and did not get back up, Zapata said.

Orem Police Lt. Doug Edwards said that according to witnesses, Morton shot her again then kicked her in the face as she lay on the sidewalk.

Morton then went back into the home. He surrendered shortly after police arrived.

Morton and Nash moved to the home from Arizona just a few months ago. Police say they met on the Internet, although Edwards didn't know via which Web site.

Zapata and her family are also new to the area — they've lived there just three months — but have enjoyed the quiet neighborhood near Utah Valley State College.

A few weeks ago Morton came to Zapata's house and offered to clean her carpets. He later offered to help Zapata's husband with car repairs.

"He seemed really nice, so we were shocked to see it happen," Zapata said.

Zapata described Nash as a happy woman who always had a smile on her face, wore jeans and kept her hair in a ponytail.

Zapata, who said she saw Nash take her children to school each morning, worries about the woman's boys, ages 11 and 8.

"How can you get over someone killing your mom right in front of you?" she said.

Zapata said the younger child saw the entire event. He yelled, "My mom! My mom!" then ran to a neighbor's home to call police, Zapata said.

He ran two houses down to the Elies family's brown brick house where he told them, "My mom's been shot" and said that he needed to use the phone, said Sydnee Elies.

The children are now with their biological father, who drove to Utah from Arizona.

Neighbors such as the Elieses and the Zapatas were shocked, but it's not the first violent incident on Morton's police record.

Last Thanksgiving morning, police say Morton tried to strangle Nash after a fight about the turkey dinner, Edwards said.

According to police, Nash dialed 911, but Morton grabbed the phone and broke it before she could say anything. Police responded to the abandoned call to their former home at 34 E. 700 North in Orem.

He was charged in municipal court with class B misdemeanors of assault and interruption of a communication device last November. He entered guilty pleas that were held in abeyance, and his case was scheduled to be reviewed Nov. 28.

Alcohol was a factor in the November dispute and thought to be a factor in Monday's shooting, Edwards said.

Police still aren't sure when the couple moved from Orem to Arizona and then back again. However, Morton's employer said he has been with the company for about one year.

"It's a bit of a shock to all of us," said Erik Adams, president of Quickutz, a die-cuts scrapbook supply company.

Adams said Morton had always been a good employee.

Morton, who was arrested and booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of murder, appeared in 4th District Court Tuesday morning for his bail hearing.

When the state prosecutor asked that his bail be set at $750,000 cash only, Morton said he thought it was "a little high."

"I'm really sorry about what I did, that's all I can say," Morton said, via video screen from the Utah County Jail.

Prosecutor Chad Grunander said the case is being screened for other possible charges.

If a murder is committed in the presence of another person who is also endangered — the 8-year-old child — the charge can be increased to aggravated, or capital, murder, which carries the possibility of the death penalty.


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com

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