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Dead Man Pronounced Guilty of Murder

January 16, 1985

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The formal conviction of a dead man for the contract murders of his wife and son will keep his wife and children by a previous marriage from collecting $1 million in insurance ″blood money,″ a prosecutor said.

Clifford Lee Morgan, 57, had insured his wife Nancy and their 8-year-old son Mitchell for nearly $1 million before they were stabbed a total of 65 times on May 21, 1982. He was convicted in September 1983 of ordering their deaths, and could have received the death penalty.

But Morgan died of bone cancer in September 1983 before the sentencing phase of his trial, which meant he was never formally convicted until Superior Court Judge Robert Fratianne made it official Tuesday.

″If the law is going to close its eyes to a conviction to a brutal double murder ... then I’m going to take these robes off and leave this bench, because that is not the law you are talking about,″ Fratianne told the attorney representing Morgan’s estate.

Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Jonas said he pushed for the formal conviction because he thought no money should go to Morgan’s former wife and four adult children, who testified on his behalf during his 10-month trial.

Morgan’s heirs ″are like vultures hovering over the gravesite. They are seeking blood money,″ Jonas said.

The attorney for Morgan’s estate, Michael Doland, said he intends to appeal the judge’s decision.

Mrs. Morgan was stabbed 45 times and her son 20 times at their home. Two men Morgan hired to commit the murders were sentenced in February to die in the gas chamber.

Morgan’s conviction of the special circumstance of murder for financial gain prevents his estate from being the beneficiary of insurance on the wife and son. Had the money gone to his estate, the surviving four children could have claimed it.

Where the money will go is still uncertain, despite Fratianne’s action.

Mrs. Morgan’s executor claims that since Morgan was not entitled to the money by reason of his wrongdoing, it should be diverted to her estate, said attorney Joseph Palty, who represents the murdered boy’s estate. The insurance would thus go to her family in New Jersey.

Mrs. Morgan’s sister, Judy Yockel, and mother are determined to keep the insurance money from Morgan’s children and first wife, Jonas said.

″The Yockels are saying we will fight to our last drop of breath any of that money going to Morgan’s estate, or through it, to his former wife or children. They’d rather see it donated to charity,″ he said.

A civil trial will be required to settle the issue, Palty and Jonas said.

Arguments also are being raised about how much money will be paid, Jonas said.

Equitable Life Assurance of New York, which issued the policies on Morgan’s wife and son, is arguing that at least some of the money should be withheld, he said.

Sal Varela, agency manager for the company in Los Angeles, said the main stumbling block to payment is determining who should get the money. But he also said the company is contending that fraud invalidates some of the policies because Morgan took them out intending to kill his family.

Some of the policies were taken out a year before the murders, others at the son’s birth.

A call to the attorney representing the four children, Ralph Wilson, was answered by a woman who said: ″Mr. Wilson is not available. I’m not either,″ and hung up.

Fratianne entered his judgment retroactive to Jan. 30, 1984, when Morgan’s motion for a new trial was denied, Jonas said.

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