FREEHOLD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New Jersey man who tossed his 2-year-old daughter into a creek while she was strapped into her car seat apologized Wednesday, but not for murdering the child.
Just before he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison, Arthur Morgan III apologized to the child’s mother for the breakdown of their relationship.
“I want to say I’m sorry for the deterioration of what I thought was a beautiful friendship between the two of us that blossomed into a daughter,” Morgan told Imani Benton. “For anybody that was truly affected by this, I hope we can all heal from this situation, knowing Tierra is in a better place.”
Given the chance to explain his actions to Judge Anthony Mellaci Jr., Morgan complained that the media published photos that made him look inappropriately angry or happy.
He also said he would not have worn designer clothing to court if he knew he would be criticized for it.
“Because I wear Gucci,” he said. “Well, I guess that is kind of ironic because that is my favorite fragrances, ‘Guilty’ by Gucci.”
Morgan was convicted of killing Tierra Morgan-Glover by throwing her into a creek in a park in Wall Township, strapped into a car seat and weighed down by a tire jack. Her body was pulled from the creek with one tiny black and purple sneaker sticking out of the water.
The girl’s mother, who wore a dress embroidered with Tierra’s name and photos attached to it, said she hopes Morgan suffers in prison.
“I don’t understand why she was taken from me,” Benton said. “It does give me peace to know that she is in Heaven with God, and (Morgan) will pay for what he did to her, to me and to everyone else. No good will come to him.”
Both the prosecutor and the judge lamented that New Jersey has abolished the death penalty.
Mellaci told Morgan his actions were “horrific, unthinkable and appalling.”
“This child was alive when she was placed in the water in pitch darkness, and had to suffer the unthinkable action of having water rush in and fill her lungs while strapped into that car seat,” the judge said. “This child suffered before she died.”
Prosecutors had said he killed Tierra to get back at her mother for breaking off their engagement.
“It was because he wanted Imani and he couldn’t have her,” prosecutor Marc LeMieux said. “So he took away the one precious thing in her life.”
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.
Defense lawyer Jeffrey Coghlan told the jury in his closing argument 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.
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.
In a video statement to police in San Diego, 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.
In court Wednesday, Morgan began to reassert allegations of abuse against Benton’s family that he made in a letter he sent her from jail, but the judge cut him off, directing him to speak about the act of killing his daughter.
Mellaci said there was no evidence the girl was mistreated in any way before her death.
But in rambling comments that repeatedly sought to portray himself as a heroic figure wrongly maligned, Morgan asserted he was a good father.
“As a father, my job was to provide and protect,” he said. “All my actions prior to this were to make sure Tierra was safe and Imani was comfortable.”
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