FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — A man who tossed his 2-year-old daughter into a creek while she was still strapped into her car seat was convicted Thursday of her murder and smirked as he was led out of court in handcuffs to spend what will probably be the rest of his life behind bars.
Jurors found Arthur Morgan III guilty of killing Tierra Morgan-Glover, whose body was pulled from a creek in a park near the Jersey shore in November 2011. They also found him guilty of child endangerment and interference with custody.
Because the jurors determined that Morgan's actions were "knowing or purposeful," the 29-year-old is likely to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors had said he killed Tierra to get back at her mother for breaking off their engagement. They said he weighed down her pink car seat with a tire jack to ensure it would sink. Her body was pulled from a creek in Wall Township, about 20 miles from her Lakehurst home, with one tiny black and purple sneaker sticking out of the water.
"We finally got justice for Tierra Morgan-Glover," said Marc LeMieuxm, first assistant Monmouth County prosecutor.
"God bless her," added county prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni. "I hope she's in a better place."
The girl's relatives gasped when Morgan smirked broadly as he was led out of the courtroom after his conviction, his hands and feet shackled. Immediately after leaving the courtroom, several of them collapsed into sobs, with one woman wailing, "Oh, God!"
Defense lawyers had asked the jury to convict Morgan of reckless manslaughter, which could have seen him freed in as little as five years.
Morgan's state of mind the day of his daughter's death was 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 was to decide "what form of homicide applies to this defendant."
After her 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.
Defense lawyer Jeffrey Coghlan told jurors 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.
On Wednesday, jurors asked the judge for a second glimpse of Morgan's video statement to police in San Diego. 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.
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.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC