FREEHOLD, N.J. – Things had not been going Arthur Morgan III's way recently.
He had been quarrelling with his girlfriend over their 2-year-old daughter, with each side taking the other to court. He hadn't seen little Tierra Morgan-Glover in a month, and he'd just gotten fired from his job at a lumber yard a week earlier.
On Nov. 21, he made arrangements with the girl's mother, Imani Benton, to take his daughter to see a movie about dancing penguins. When he failed to return her 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 following a cross-country flight from his home 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 tossed the car seat, with his daughter strapped snugly inside its protective belts, from an overpass into the chilly water of the creek. To ensure that it sank, he had attached a car jack, the heavy metal contraption used to raise a car's chassis to change a flat tire, according to Richard Incremona, Monmouth 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 lie, 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 New Jersey, standing handcuffed in an olive green jail jumpsuit, appearing relaxed as the proceedings began that could eventually 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 car jack to weigh down the car seat, ensuring it would sink.
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 in this case, he said.
The hearing was an initial appearance; the 27-year-old Morgan was not required to enter a plea, and did not do so.
Besides the murder charge, Morgan also 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 in which she was discovered is 3 to 7 feet deep in the area where the body was found — near a roadway overpass about 15 feet above the creek.
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" after the child's body was found.
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 will 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.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
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