The trial in a 16-year-old Menlo Park murder came to an emotional end Wednesday as a San Mateo County judge sentenced Joseph Eli Morrow to 25 years to life in prison for the killing of Morrow’s wife.
Morrow’s sentence was dictated by a plea agreement he accepted Sept. 11 — the day the 59-year-old’s trial was to begin. The ruling followed a daylong hearing in which Morrow’s first wife detailed how he once strangled her until she nearly lost consciousness and a string of Donna Morrow’s friends and relatives wept as they described the void in their lives.
The Morrows’ three daughters, now in their 20s, pleaded for mercy for their father, telling Judge Craig Parsons that they could not bear to lose both parents. The Morrows’ eldest child, a son, is incarcerated.
Daughter Lisa Morrow said that despite turning her father in to authorities after his decade on the run in Europe and the Philippines, she still would like to see him be paroled eventually.
“I know in my heart that what happened that night was not premeditated but in the heat of passion,” she said. “We love our dad and are working on forgiveness each day.”
Donna’s siblings described the dread they felt when, gathered on Christmas in 1991 in their native Missouri, their father phoned Donna in California, only to be told by Joseph Morrow that she had left the family six days earlier and hadn’t been heard from since.
“We knew she wouldn’t leave her kids, that something terrible had happened,” recalled Donna’s sister, Linda Hayes. Donna’s remains were found in September 2003 on Morrow’s Los Gatos property.
Donna’s friends testified that the popular, devoted mother had told themshe was planning to divorce her husband.
Morrow’s sister, Dorothy Morrow, tearfully told the judge that her brother was beaten by their father and sexually violated by their mother. In turn, he physically abused and sexually exploited Dorothy, she claimed on the stand.
Morrow made a brief statement accepting responsibility for his crime, but declined to reveal the circumstances of Donna’s death, which is still unknown. He denied his sister’s allegations, both that he was abused and that he was an abuser.
Donna “was a nice lady” who didn’t deserve what happened to her, he said.
Morrow, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, should spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Timeline of events
» Dec. 19, 1991: Donna Morrow is killed in the garage of her Menlo Park home
» 1993: Joseph Morrow vanishes
» 1997: $10 million arrest warrant issued for Joseph Morrow
» January, 2003: Joseph Morrow arrested in the Philippines
» September, 2003: Donna Morrow’s body is discovered on the family’s 36-acre property in Los Gatos.
» Sept. 11, 2007: Joseph Morrow pleads no contest to murdering his wife and assaulting her seven times over the course of their marriage.
» Oct. 24, 2007: Joseph Morrow sentenced to 25 years to life in prison