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Judge Sentences Morgan to Death

Courts: Rapist was convicted of 1994 murder of Leanora Annette Wong outside a nightclub. Her family vows to witness execution.

July 20, 1996|ANNA CEKOLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A rapist did not say a word Friday as a judge sentenced him to die for strangling and sexually mutilating a young woman he had just met at an Orange nightclub.

Superior Court Judge Richard L. Weatherspoon cited "overwhelming" evidence in upholding a jury's decision that 30-year-old Edward Patrick Morgan should be executed.

Morgan declined to make a statement on his behalf, while the parents of his victim, 23-year-old Leanora Annette Wong, left court in tears. They vowed to witness Morgan's death.

"I'm just glad it's all over," said Nora Wong, her eyes red from crying. "Of course, it can't bring back our daughter."

Morgan was convicted of the May 20, 1994, kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of Wong, a UC Riverside graduate who had recently moved to Orange County to help manage a footwear store.

During his trial, Morgan apologized for killing Wong in what he contended was a drunken rage. He said he didn't care if he lived or died.

"There's nothing worse than doing something you can't undo," he told the jury.

Wong's family said the remorse is meaningless.

"He should have thought about it before he killed somebody," Nora Wong said. "Now he says sorry. That doesn't help."

Family members sent a letter to the court describing their pain and sleepless nights since Leanora's death.

"A lot of times I wish that night will not come and also I cannot eat and have lost weight," Nora Wong wrote. "It took my husband over three months before he went back to work and our son has lost his only sister and he was very angry."

Morgan had been paroled from prison just weeks before he met Wong at the now-defunct Australian Beach Club. He invited her to walk outside, then forced her into a secluded enclosure, where he beat and strangled her, according to testimony.

Wong's body, battered and mutilated with a sharp object, was found the next morning.

Part of the attack was captured on a surveillance camera. Investigators found Morgan's bloody handprint at the scene.

Morgan has a history of crimes against women that includes three previous convictions for sexual assault that landed him in state prison.

The defendant's attorney conceded his client inflicted "unspeakable" wounds on Wong, but said Morgan acted in a "blind rage" and didn't plan on killing her.

The defense called no witnesses on his behalf until the trial's penalty phase, when former teachers described him as a hard-working athlete and friends recalled his explosive temper. Jurors were shown school records indicating Morgan was an "emotionally disturbed" child who had a poor relationship with his parents, especially his mother. Morgan, who maintains a body-builder's physique, was placed in special-education classes throughout his schooling in La Palma.

Defense attorney Julian Bailey said the death sentence only "compounds the tragedy" and will generate years of costly appeals.

Taxpayer dollars, Bailey said, would be better spent helping children with problems like Morgan had.

"He was difficult to deal with. But if you deal with the difficult kids, maybe you won't have to deal with horrible criminal behavior like this when they become adults," Bailey said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lewis Rosenblum had said Morgan deserved to die for using his looks and charm to entice Wong to an especially brutal death.

"This is the most horrific crime that I've ever seen in my career in law enforcement," Orange Police Det. Patrick Thayer said Friday.

"There's no forgiving for something like this."

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