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Murder trial: Man who strangled Marston teenager found guilty of manslaughter

Hannah Pearson.
Hannah Pearson.

A former McDonald’s worker who strangled his pal’s 16-year-old girlfriend to death just hours after they met has been found guilty of her manslaughter.

Pervert James Morton, who was obsessed with choking women during sex, plied ‘beautiful’ Marston teenager Hannah Pearson with booze before killing her in a bedroom at his home in Newark.

The naked and unconscious schoolgirl, who also worked part-time as a waitress, was rushed to hospital when Morton called 999 – but doctors pronounced her dead shortly after arrival.

Morton, 24, admitted putting Hannah, who had drunk so much she was struggling to stand, in bed and climbing in next to her – then squeezing her throat until she was dead.

He denied murder, claiming her death took place accidentally as part of a sex game gone wrong after she kissed him first.

But jurors found him guilty of Hannah’s manslaughter following a two-week trial at Nottingham Crown Court.

He will be sentenced in the morning (Thursday).

The court heard how Hannah may have even been unconscious through drink when Morton – who was a foot taller than his 5’3” victim and six stones heavier – struck.

Judge Mrs Justice Carr congratulated Hannah’s relatives who attended the trial for the “enormous dignity” they had shown during the proceedings.

The court heard that on the day she died, farmer’s daughter Hannah met up with her boyfriend, Jed Hope, in a pub in Lincoln to celebrate Mr Hope’s 19th birthday on July 23 last year.

Morton, a ‘close’ friend of Mr Hope’s, was already at the pub when Hannah arrived. It was the first time she had met her killer.

The trio drank in the pub and bought more alcohol at a convenience store before Morton, whose parents were away, invited the young couple to his house.

Mr Hope couldn’t afford the train fare and wasn’t allowed overnight visitors at his home so Hannah, who had told her parents she would be staying over at a friend’s house, made the fateful decision to go alone – with the intention her boyfriend would join them there early the next morning.

Mr Hope told the court how he asked Morton to ‘keep’ Hannah, who worked for restaurant chain Pizza Express, safe as he kissed her goodbye at the station.

However, once they were back at his, Morton supplied her with wine then, according to his account in he witness box, put her into bed fully-clothed before stripping down to his boxer shorts and getting in alongside her.

Giving evidence in his own defence, he insisted he had no intention of having sex with Hannah, who was more than twice over the legal drink-drive limit – but claimed she then put her hand on his cheek and kissed him on the mouth.

He told jurors he ‘responded’ to her advances, helping her undress before sitting across her and putting a hand around her’s neck, telling her that if she ‘didn’t like it she should ask him to stop’.

He claimed: “I didn’t want her to feel unsafe or pressurised. She said it was okay so I carried on.”

Morton said he then put his other hand around Hannah’s throat and applied slightly more pressure, but moments later heard her give a “sharp intake of breath”.

He loosened his grip, ‘massaging’ her neck instead, but soon became alarmed because he couldn’t hear Hannah breathing and turned on a bedroom light.

Asked by his barrister, Shaun Smith QC, what he saw in the lightened room, Morton replied: “Hannah was staring up at me. At that point I believed she was dead. Her eyes were glazed. Her lips had turned purple.”

Morton added he’d tried strangling a previous partner, and was ‘curious’ after ‘seeing it on a film’.

But he said Hannah’s death was an accident, claiming under cross-examination that he had got ‘carried away’ and was ‘disgusted with himself’.

However, in opening the case, Michael Evans QC told the court: “This was no accident. He was someone who increasingly enjoyed the sensation of strangling women. He knew it was dangerous, that is what turned him on.

“The defendant admitted to enjoying the sensation of strangling women during sex. He admitted enjoying the feeling of domination.

“It would have been obvious to him that he was causing really serious harm. We say that on this night, his increasing obsession with strangulation reached a different level.

“On his own account, he was sober, she was not. He was in control, she was not. And by his description, he knew exactly what he was doing.”

After Hannah’s death, her family released a statement in which they said: “Hannah was a beautiful daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunty, niece and friend.

“She was a bright and bubbly girl with a lively spirit who embraced life. She will be missed by everyone whose life she touched.”

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