The lawyer for a New Jersey man accused of killing his 2-year-old daughter by tossing her into a creek, still strapped into her car seat, described him Tuesday as a loving father who snapped under pressure, and asked a jury to let him go free in as little as five years.
But the prosecutor in the trial of Arthur Morgan III said the defendant is a cold-blooded killer who knew exactly what he was doing as he hurled the defenseless toddler to a horrific -- and not instantaneous -- death.
Jury deliberations are to begin Wednesday. The 29-year-old Morgan is charged with murder, child endangerment and interference with custody.
The prosecution says Morgan killed Tierra Morgan-Glover in a jealous rage in November 2011 after the child's mother, Imani Benton, broke off their engagement. Killing the girl was the most severe way he could get even with Benton, prosecutors say.
"When this defendant is upset about something, he took Tierra as a weapon and killed her," First Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Marc LeMieux said in closing arguments. "It's that simple."
In closing arguments, defense lawyer Jeffrey Coghlan told the jury Morgan was a doting father who was never so happy as when he was with his daughter. He said Morgan dreamed of reuniting the family but that desire turned into an obsession when Morgan was not thinking clearly. On the Saturday before the girl was killed, Morgan phoned her mother 590 times.
The girl's body was pulled from a creek in a Wall Township park about 20 miles from her Lakehurst home, one tiny black and purple sneaker sticking out of the water. The child was still strapped in her pink car seat, which was weighed down with a heavy metal car tire jack, which prosecutors said was done to ensure it would sink.
Prosecutors said Morgan gave a statement to authorities in San Diego, where he was arrested, indicating "he could have done it that way" when asked if he had tossed the child into the creek.
In that statement, parts of which were played for the jury, Morgan told a detective he would rather live with the consequences of a bad decision he made than with one someone else made for him.
Coghlan suggested Morgan had gently placed Tierra in the stream in shallow water, citing parts of the statement to police where Morgan said the girl was alive when he left her. But he also said he does not recall how she got into the water.
Morgan, whose last known address was in Eatontown, had been living in his car shortly before the killing. His state of mind on the day of his daughter's death is a key part of the case.
In his opening statement last month, defense attorney Ryan Moriarty indicated Morgan would not deny responsibility for Tierra's death, and told jurors their task is to decide "what form of homicide applies to this defendant."
If convicted of "knowing and purposeful" murder, Morgan could get life in prison without parole. But if convicted of a lesser form of homicide, like manslaughter, he could be freed in as little as five years.
Morgan declined to testify in the case, and his defense rested without presenting any witnesses.
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The Monmouth County Medical Examiner testified the girl showed signs of drowning. Dr. Anthony Falzon said the child had white foamy material in her lungs and nose typical of drowning victims, and noted that the girl could have been conscious for 3 minutes after entering the water and trying to breathe, and alive for nearly 5 more minutes before dying.
He listed her official cause of death as "homicidal violence, including submersion in water."
Earlier in the day, Superior Court Judge Anthony Mellaci Jr. denied a defense motion to dismiss murder and other charges against Morgan, ruling more than enough evidence had been introduced in court for a jury to convict Morgan on all charges, should the jury decide to do so.
"There is only one answer and it screams at you," LeMieux told jurors in closing arguments. "He is guilty of murder."