John Moreton wasn't planning to claim custody of his 4-year-old son. He only wanted to spend some time with the child.
Armed with a court order, he drove from New Jersey to Tarpon Springs to pick up John Moreton Jr. for a three-month visit.
Instead, the 26-year-old New Jersey man was shot to death in the parking lot of a Days Inn late Saturday night. His estranged mother-in-law, Linda May Marter, turned herself in to police a few hours later and was charged with first-degree murder.
"It was only for three months, from March 22 to June 22," said Moreton's girlfriend, Terri Strazzeri, 19, who accompanied him to Florida. "She (Marter) thought he was going to get (his son) and keep him."
Marter, 43, a school bus driver for Pinellas County, was being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail on Sunday. The boy's mother, Terry Moreton, could not be reached for comment.
John Moreton Jr. had a birthday party on Saturday, just hours before the slaying. He turned 4 on Tuesday.
Strazzeri said John Sr. and Terry Moreton separated in September and were going through a divorce. Police said Terry Moreton came to Florida to live with her mother, even though she was not legally allowed to take the child out of New Jersey.
John Moreton persuaded a judge to let him bring his son back to New Jersey for three months. Strazzeri came along for the ride.
Strazzeri said she and Moreton went to Marter's house Saturday with a police officer to serve the court papers granting Moreton temporary custody. The birthday party was in full swing.
Terry Moreton was angry that Strazzeri was with her husband, Strazzeri said. The situation was so tense that Strazzeri and Moreton left to return to the Days Inn at 40050 U.S. 19 N. There, they waited for police to bring the boy.
At about 8:20 p.m., Marter called.
"She said she was bringing over Johnny without Terry so it wouldn't cause problems," Strazzeri said. She waited in the room while Moreton went down to meet his mother-in-law.
About five minutes after Moreton left the room, Strazzeri heard the gunshots.
"I ran down there, and he was bleeding. I saw him die," Strazzeri said in a telephone interview from the house she and Moreton shared in Audubon, N.J. "She got out of her car and shot him."
Moreton had been shot three times in the left chest and abdomen with a revolver.
About two hours after the slaying, Marter turned herself in at the Pinellas County Jail. Her attorney, Carmen Dill, refused to comment on Sunday. A woman who answered the phone at Marter's home also declined to comment. Police on Sunday said the case is being investigated.
Moreton and other relatives owned a construction and truck rental company in New Jersey.
Strazzeri said Moreton was frustrated because of difficulties with the divorce. Terry Moreton had refused to accept service of court documents, then took their son first to New Hampshire then to Florida, she said. Police said the child was with his mother Sunday.
John Moreton missed his son during the past five months and asked a judge for temporary custody so he could bring the boy to New Jersey for three months. "He didn't even want custody. He planned to leave him with his mother," Strazzeri said. "It was just visitation. It was just so he could see him. That's all he wanted."
Strazzeri said it never occurred to Moreton to be concerned that something might go wrong.
"He was just excited about getting his child."