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NJ Wants Return of Dad Accused in Toddler’s Death

Tierra Morgan and father
Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office

New Jersey prosecutors were trying to get a quick extradition of a man charged with killing his 2-year-old daughter by tossing her into a creek while she was still strapped in her car seat, as child-welfare officials review their dealings with the family.

Twenty-seven-year-old Arthur Morgan III was captured late Tuesday afternoon at a home in San Diego, Calif. The arrest came one week after he allegedly killed Tierra Morgan-Glover during a court-approved visit and then fled the state. Authorities say there was no struggle when they finally tracked him down.

Tierra’s body was found partially submerged in a creek near a roadway overpass in Shark River Park in Wall Township, N.J., about 20 miles north of her Lakehurst home. Her cause of death was listed as “homicidal violence, including submersion in water.”

Prosecutors would not say whether authorities believe the girl was thrown from a vehicle into the creek, or whether she was carried into the park and placed in the water.

Morgan, who could not be reached for comment, had been the subject of a nationwide manhunt and had been featured on the website of “America’s Most Wanted” after the child’s body was found. He was being held early Wednesday in California, and it was not yet known when an extradition hearing would be scheduled.

The girl’s mother, Imani Benton, called police after Morgan failed to return the girl on Nov. 21.  She and her family learned of the arrest Tuesday night.  “It was a relief. Everybody could sleep. We all were starting to be fearful of him. He did things to all of us,” Benton’s mother, Michelle Simmons, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday morning in the Lakehurst home she shares with her daughter and where Tierra lived. “We want to know why he did what he did to that baby.”

Benton and Morgan apparently had a tumultuous relationship. The New Jersey Department of Children and Families had been involved in their family on and off for more than a year.

Allison Blake, commissioner of the child-welfare agency, said it is reviewing its interactions with the family to see if the cases were handled properly. The agency has a federal monitor and has taken criticism over the past decade for not doing enough to protect children under its watch. The most recent tragedy came in May when an 8-year-old girl in Irvington was found dead in her home from starvation and abuse. The agency had an anonymous tip nine days earlier about the girl’s condition, but it went uninvestigated.

The most recent contact between the agency and Tierra’s family began on Nov. 9, when Morgan called in saying he did not know where the girl was. The state said that claim and others he made were unfounded.

Earlier calls dealt with domestic violence between the girl’s parents, conditions in the home where the girl and her mother were living and violence between the girl’s mother and her brother.

Blake said that Benton received parenting classes through the agency last year. She said Morgan was offered parenting classes and a substance abuse evaluation, but he refused to participate.

Steve Jurman, supervising deputy at the U.S. Marshals Service office in San Diego, said his office got a tip from New Jersey authorities that Morgan might be at the home. Marshals conducted surveillance there for most of the day. Morgan was then spotted on the home’s back porch and, after a brief period where it appeared he might try to flee, Morgan was taken into custody.

Monmouth County prosecutor Peter E. Warshaw Jr. praised the efforts of the U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement authorities that were involved in the search for Morgan, who is charged with Tierra’s murder and also faces charges of child endangerment and interfering with custody in neighboring Ocean County.

At least 13 law enforcement agencies in and around New Jersey joined the search for Morgan, covering airports, train stations, bus depots, and highway bridges and tunnels. He had an apartment in Eatontown, but had been staying on and off with a friend in Ocean Township, adjacent to Asbury Park.

An obituary prepared by the church at which her funeral was held gave the child’s full name as Tierra La’Shae Camaya Morgan-Glover, “a bright-eyed little girl with a warm smile.” Clergy there said Tierra quickly became known as “the church baby” because her radiant smile and warm personality were so noticeable to anyone who attended services there.

They said she enjoyed singing, loved math, and was a quick learner.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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