Julio Cortez, Associated Press
A woman wipes tears off the face of Imani Benton, center, while attending a court hearing or Arthur Morgan III at Monmouth Country Courthouse, Monday, Dec. 5, 2011, in Freehold, N.J. Benton's 2-year-old daughter, Tierra Morgan-Glover, was found dead in a Monmouth County park and Morgan, the father of the child, is charged with the crime. During the proceeding, First Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Richard Incremona said Morgan allegedly killed the child by weighing her car seat down with a tire iron before throwing it into a creek. Morgan was arrested last week in San Diego and agreed to return to his home state to stand trial.
FREEHOLD, N.J. — A New Jersey man accused of killing his 2-year-old daughter weighed her car seat down with a car jack before throwing it into a creek with the child still strapped inside, a prosecutor said Monday.
The child was "awake, alert and helpless" when she hit the water, First Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Richard Incremona said during a court hearing at which he laid out details of the murder charge against Arthur Morgan III. It was the first time an official said Morgan tossed the child from an overpass in the park.
"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."
A judge also 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.
The hearing was an initial appearance; Morgan was not required to enter a plea, and did not do so.
Morgan, 27, appeared relaxed throughout the hearing. At one point, the judge asked if he wanted the complaint against him to be read. "No, that's fine," he answered.
His 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."
Superior Court Judge Thomas Scully agreed, but 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, the judge said.
Morgan was arrested last week in San Diego and agreed to return to his home state to stand trial.
He is charged with the murder of Tierra Morgan-Glover, whose body was found Nov. 22 in a creek in Wall Township.
He had picked the child up from her mother's house in Lakehurst, about 20 miles south of the park, but failed to return her, prompting her to call police.
Imani Benton, the girl's mother, and several of her relatives were ushered out of the courtroom after the hearing and did not speak with reporters. But muffled gasps were heard in court when Incremona described what prosecutors allege Morgan did on the day Tierra died, particularly when the prosecutor revealed that a car jack had been wedged into the car seat to weigh it down.
After leaving the park, Incremona said, Morgan went to a friend's house, had a few drinks, then gave away his car and most of his clothing before fleeing on a train and a bus to California.
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.
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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.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC