N.J. states case against father
Officials said Arthur Morgan 3d threw his child, 2, into a creek strapped in a car seat.
FREEHOLD, N.J. - Things had not been going Arthur Morgan 3d's way recently.
He had been quarrelling with his girlfriend over their 2-year-old daughter, with each taking the other to court. He had not seen little Tierra Morgan-Glover in a month, and he had gotten fired from his job at a lumberyard a week earlier.
On Nov. 21, Morgan made arrangements with the girl's mother, Imani Benton, to take his daughter to see a movie about dancing penguins. When they failed to return after a few hours, Benton called police.
But by that time, Tierra was likely dead already. On Monday, a New Jersey prosecutor laid out a series of chilling accusations against Morgan, a week after he was arrested in California after a cross-country flight from his most recent home, in Eatontown at the Jersey Shore.
The girl's body, still strapped into a car seat, was found partially submerged in a park creek by children playing nearby.
According to prosecutors, Morgan, 27, tossed the seat, with his daughter strapped snugly inside its protective belts, from an overpass into the chilly water in Wall Township, Monmouth County. To ensure that it sank, he had attached a car jack, the heavy metal tool used to raise a car's chassis to change a flat tire, according to Richard Incremona, the county's deputy first assistant prosecutor.
"The crime being charged is murder. That murder is of his 2-year-old daughter, who he tossed off a bridge into a running creek - awake, alert, and helpless," Incremona said. "He took a spare car jack, for a flat tire, and attached it to the back of her car seat to weigh as an anchor. The defendant threw his daughter from a bridge and walked away from that without a care."
After leaving the park, Incremona said, Morgan went to a friend's house, had a few drinks, gave away his car and most of his clothing, and headed to a train station not far from the park where his daughter lay, cold water swirling around her body.
He made his way by train and bus to California, and was arrested a week later in San Diego, "a few miles away from the Mexican border, clearly never intending to come back," Incremona said.
On Monday, though, he was back in Monmouth County, appearing relaxed, though handcuffed, as the proceedings began that eventually could see him sent to prison for life with no chance of parole. When Superior Court Judge Thomas Scully asked him if he wanted the criminal complaint against him read in court, Morgan replied, "No, that's fine."
At another point, he leaned forward and yawned.
The prosecution's revelations rocked Benton's family. Muffled gasps were heard in the courtroom as Incremona accused Morgan of using the heavy jack to weigh down the car seat.
Benton and several of her relatives were ushered out of the courtroom after the hearing and did not speak with reporters.
Morgan's public defender, Allison Tucker, declined to comment on his behalf after the brief hearing. She argued unsuccessfully for a lower bail, telling the judge, "Despite how many times the prosecutor says he did these things, my client is due the presumption of innocence."
Scully set bail at $10 million, upon Incremona's request.
"Anyone that could do what he did to his own flesh and blood, a 2-year-old baby, is clearly a danger to others," the prosecutor said.
Scully noted that state court guidelines require a judge to consider numerous factors when setting bail, including the seriousness of the crime, the likelihood of conviction, the risk of flight, and the severity of punishment called for under the law if convicted. All those factors more than justified a $10 million cash bail, he said.
The hearing was an initial appearance. Morgan was not required to enter a plea and did not do so.
Besides the murder charge, he is charged with custody violation and interstate flight to avoid apprehension.
The toddler's body was found in Shark River Park, about 20 miles north of her home in Lakehurst, N.J. Her cause of death was listed as "homicidal violence, including submersion in water." The creek is three to seven feet deep in the area where the body was found.
After fleeing New Jersey, Morgan was the subject of a coast-to-coast manhunt and had been featured on the website of America's Most Wanted.
New Jersey child protective authorities investigated the turbulent relationship between the girl's parents four times, in each case failing to determine that the girl was in any danger. Two investigations into whether the state Division of Children and Family Services acted properly are under way.
Should Morgan be convicted, Incremona suggested prosecutors would seek to have him imprisoned for the rest of his life without parole - the harshest punishment available in New Jersey since state officials instituted a moratorium on new death-penalty cases several years ago.