Page last updated at 11:45 GMT, Monday, 1 August 2005 12:45 UK

Relationship doomed from start

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A retired architect has been convicted of the manslaughter his young Argentinian-born wife, whose body has never been found.

In hindsight the relationship was doomed from the start.

Timetable
1985: Gracia follows her sister Constanza to Britain from Argentina
1987: Gracia marries Michael Morton, an architect working on her sister's home
1993: Gracia gives birth to a daughter
Feb 1997: Gracia leaves Morton, taking her daughter with her
12 Nov 1997: Gracia visits Morton to discuss their daughter's schooling. He kills her
Feb 1999: Morton is arrested on suspicion of murder but later released
Oct 2003: Morton is finally charged with murder
Nov 2004: The first trial ends with the jury deadlocked
Jul 2005: After a retrial Morton is convicted of manslaughter

Michael Morton - known to friends as Jo - was 48-years-old when he met Gracia Lezama, a pretty violinist aged 29 just arrived in Britain.

Morton, a wealthy womaniser, was an architect doing work on the Ealing, London, home of Gracia's sister, Constanza, and her husband Peter Thomas, a professional classical violinist.

Gracia was also a talented violinist, who moved to Britain partly to undergo advanced tuition from her brother-in-law.

Far from home, she was easily charmed by Morton, who came across as an erudite, honourable English gentleman.

In fact, Morton had only just divorced his first wife, Patricia, and had fathered four children by three different women - one of whom he did not acknowledge.

He was nevertheless besotted with Gracia and in May 1987 they married.

Morton's mother died three years later and he put a considerable inheritance into separate investment portfolios run by a company called Brewin Dolphin Securities.

One was in his name, the other in Gracia's name, with around 500,000 in each.

The couple also owned a house in upmarket Holland Park and a cottage in Stonesfield, Oxfordshire.

Gracia had a daughter in 1993 and, with Morton taking early retirement, things seemed set fair.

But the relationship deteriorated, partly because of his womanising and demands to be in control.

He had a blazing temper and was frequently violent towards her.

Michael Morton
I can foresee no prospect of happiness, remotely equivalent of the distress I would suffer in the loss of my wife and daughter and my future actions will be directed to minimising distress
Michael Morton, after Gracia left him
Three years later the marriage was faltering and in December 1996 Gracia began an affair with Sandy MacDonald.

Two months later she decided to leave her husband and take her daughter with her.

In April 1997 she rekindled the relationship with Sandy and that summer began re-ordering her affairs.

She sued for divorce, citing his violent behaviour as the primary grounds.

Gracia used money from her Brewin Dolphin account to buy a 175,000 flat in Kensington, spent 30,000 on renovations and bought a car for 5,000.

'Boiling cauldron'

She also used this money to put her daughter into a private nursery school. All this added to what prosecutor Brian Altman called a "boiling cauldron" of resentment.

Morton was devastated when Gracia left, although it did not stop him having a relationship with another woman.

His ego seems to have been bruised by her rejection - many women had come and gone in his life but it was usually he who ended the relationship. He disliked Gracia taking the initiative.

Several witnesses told the court Morton would never let go the women in his life.

He told one girlfriend she must not leave him, adding: "People mustn't do that to me."

'Distress'

Morton faxed a letter to Gracia's sister declaring his love for her, adding: "I can foresee no prospect of happiness, remotely equivalent of the distress I would suffer in the loss of my wife and daughter and my future actions will be directed to minimising distress. This isn't a threat - it's common sense."

Gracia took it as a threat and became increasingly worried.

She insisted that Morton was not to know her new address. In fact, he learned of it when it was unwittingly included on divorce documents.

During the autumn of 1997 negotiations stalled between solicitors over the terms of the settlement - Morton accused Gracia of trying to take his money.

Money row

His solicitor wrote a letter asserting that Morton denied ever gifting Gracia the Brewin Dolphin money and added: "Your client would do well to lose the notion that she is 'absolutely entitled' to these monies."

As well as the financial dispute there was also the row over their daughter's schooling... and it cost Gracia her life.

She felt very liberated. She felt totally convinced she was doing the right thing for her and her daughter
Constanza Lezama

People who thought she was just missing thought it odd when Morton went straight into mourning.

Asked what he thought had become of her, he said: "She's like that French student taken by the lorry driver (a reference to hitch-hiker Celine Figard who was murdered in December 1995)."

Shrines

He set up shrines at his homes in London and Oxfordshire.

Detective Constable Russell Hughes spotted such a shrine - with a vase of flowers accompanied by a picture of Gracia sleeping - on Morton's landing on the Sunday after she disappeared.

Quizzed about it he said he thought she was dead and "he loved her so much".

But Gracia felt very differently.

Her sister, Constanza, told the court that after she left him: "She felt very liberated. She felt totally convinced she was doing the right thing for her and her daughter."



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