Wednesday, April 2, 2014
FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — Jurors weighing the fate of a man charged with killing his 2-year-old daughter by tossing her into a creek in her car seat ended the first day of deliberations Wednesday without a verdict, though they did ask to see the defendant's video statement to police.
The jury in the murder trial of Arthur Morgan III got a second viewing of his statement to detectives in San Diego, where he was arrested several days after Tierra Morgan-Glover's November 2011 death. In the video, a detective asked Morgan if he said anything to his daughter before leaving her to die in the creek.
"I told her I loved her, and I gave her a kiss," Morgan replied.
"Did you say a prayer for her?" the detective asked.
"Every day," Morgan answered.
Morgan insisted his daughter was not dead when he left the area.
"I still heard some noises," he said. "I heard her. She sounded like she was crying."
He said he drove away and never returned.
Jurors will resume deliberations Thursday morning.
Prosecutors in Monmouth County say Morgan, 29, killed Tierra in a jealous rage after the child's mother, Imani Benton, broke off their engagement. He is charged with murder, child endangerment and interference with custody.
The child's body was pulled from a creek in a park in Wall Township, about 20 miles from her Lakehurst home, with one tiny black and purple sneaker sticking out of the water. The child was still strapped into her pink car seat, which was weighed down with a heavy metal car tire jack; prosecutors said that was done to ensure it would sink.
Morgan's state of mind the day of his daughter's death is a key part of the case. In his opening statement, defense attorney Ryan Moriarty indicated Morgan would not deny responsibility for Tierra's death but told jurors their task is to decide "what form of homicide applies to this defendant."
After the child's death, Morgan fled to California and was arrested several days later in San Diego, with a newspaper account of the killing in his pocket.
The Monmouth County medical examiner said the toddler died from "homicidal violence, including submersion in water." He said the girl may have been conscious for three minutes after starting to breathe in water and could have remained alive for nearly five minutes after that.
If convicted of "knowing or purposeful" murder, Morgan could get life in prison without parole. But if convicted of a lesser form of homicide, like reckless manslaughter, he could be free in as little as five years. A conviction for aggravated manslaughter could result in a sentence of 10 to 30 years in prison.
Defense lawyer Jeffrey Coghlan told the jury in his closing argument Tuesday that Morgan believed Tierra's mother's family wasn't raising her properly and that Morgan wasn't thinking clearly at the time Tierra died.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC