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Arthur Morgan III in court at his trial in Freehold,N.J. / Tom Spader, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press

FREEHOLD, N.J. -- A New Jersey jury is expected Wednesday to begin deliberating whether Arthur Morgan III is guilty of killing his young daughter by tossing her into a stream while she was strapped in a car seat weighed down with a car jack.

Morgan, 29, who was homeless but last lived in Eatontown, has been on trial before Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mellaci Jr. since March 13.

A defense attorney asked the jury Tuesday to take the emotion out of a horrific act and find that his client did not purposely mean to kill his 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Tierra Morgan-Glover, when he placed her in the stream.

But a prosecutor asked the same panel to take control from what he said was a controlling, manipulative individual and find Morgan guilty of murder.

Morgan is charged with the murder of Tierra, endangering the child's welfare and interfering with her custody.

Prosecutors allege Morgan picked the child up from her mother, Imani Benton, in Lakehurst on Nov. 21, 2011, saying he was going to take the girl to see the movie, "Happy Feet Two." Instead, he took her to Shark River Park in Wall, where he strapped the child into her car seat, attached a metal car jack to the seat to weigh it down, and then threw the contraption from a bridge to a stream below, where Tierra's body was found by teenagers the next day.

Public defenders say that Morgan, beleaguered by sleeplessness, homelessness and joblessness and consumed with worry about his daughter's living arrangements, placed Tierra in the stream in the car seat to let God decide her fate.

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday morning, and Morgan's attorneys said they would not present a case, after Morgan told the judge he did not wish to testify in his defense.

In his summation, Deputy Public Defender Jeffrey Coghlan and Deputy Assistant Public Defender Ryan Moriarty did not deny Morgan's responsibility for his daughter's death but said he should be found guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter because he merely disregarded a substantial risk that Tierra would die as a result of placing her in the stream.

"By no means do we forget in this case that there are certain horrific acts here, and that a little girl lost her life, but you, me, the judge and all of us in the courtroom have to be guided not by emotions, but by law," Coghlan said in his summation.

Morgan was a father who was overwrought with worry for his child when the deadly act was committed, Coghlan said.

"He was distraught, he was sinking, he was not clearly thinking right," Coghlan said of Morgan. "Ultimately, we ask you to find Mr. Morgan guilty of manslaughter."

Reckless manslaughter is punishable by five to 10 years in prison. Aggravated manslaughter, a more serious form of the crime that the jury may consider, is punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison.

LeMieux asked the jury to convict Morgan of murder, which is punishable by 30 years to life in prison. However, in this case, Morgan could face life in prison with no possibility of parole if the jury finds the aggravating factor that the victim was younger than 14 when she was murdered.

LeMieux described Morgan in his summation as narcissistic, manipulative and controlling and said he killed Tierra to get back at her mother after they had broken off an engagement. The assistant prosecutor said Morgan, when he talked to detectives after his capture in San Diego a week after Tierra's body was found, tried to portray himself as a loving father when, instead of providing for Tierra, he was homeless and spending his money on Prada and Gucci clothing.

"He couldn't find a place to live for his daughter, but he can have 10 different pairs of the same jeans," LeMieux said. "He cares about himself."

LeMieux said Morgan probably tossed Tierra in her car seat from the bridge, rather than walking down an embankment and placing her in the stream, as the defense has argued. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter which he did because he made a conscious effort to figure out how and where to tether the metal jack to the car seat to have it serve as an anchor, LeMieux said.

"Either way, it's practically certain when you're taking a child with a ball and chain and putting her in water that's higher than the child, she is going to die - no question," LeMieux said.

"He's a cold-blooded murderer and should be found guilty," LeMieux said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Jury to consider murder charge in toddler's death

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