FREEHOLD, N.J. — Within hours of tossing his toddler daughter into a creek to die, a New Jersey man was on a bus to Virginia, talking his way on without a ticket, witnesses said Wednesday.
The bus trip was one step in a cross-country odyssey that eventually landed Arthur Morgan III in San Diego where he was arrested a week later after a nationwide manhunt.
Morgan, who had been living in Eatontown, N.J., is accused of throwing his 2½-year-old daughter, Tierra Morgan-Glover, off a bridge at about 6 p.m. ET Nov. 21, 2011, in Shark River Park in Wall Township, N.J. She had been strapped in her car seat that was weighted down with a car jack. Her body was found the next day.
He was supposed to have taken Tierra to an afternoon movie and returned her to her mother, Imani Benton, by 6 p.m. Instead, Morgan, now 29, is on trial in Monmouth County Superior Court for Tierra's murder.
Morgan had called Benton at about 6:30 p.m. to say he was running late and would drop Tierra off after stopping for gas, according to Benton's testimony last week. He never showed up and wouldn't answer his cellphone. Benton filed a missing person's report on her daughter that night.
Just before 8 p.m., Morgan was seen getting off a New Jersey Transit train from Asbury Park to Long Branch, changing to a northbound train to Newark, according to Sgt. John Sullivan of New Jersey Transit Police.
That train pulled into Newark at 9:16 p.m., and Morgan made a purchase in a liquor store before heading to a Greyhound bus terminal outside, Sullivan said.
There, Morgan spoke to Orin Lupe, a Greyhound customer service agent, Sullivan said.
The man who had approached Lupe that night said he wanted to take a bus to Richmond, Va., and that he planned to head to San Diego from there. But all the bus seats were sold out because it was Thanksgiving week, Lupe testified.
Lupe said the man he spoke to seemed as if he really wanted to so south.
Otherwise, "he was pretty calm. He seemed like a regular passenger," Lupe said. The ticket agent suggested that Morgan wait for a bus from New York to see if he could get on it.
When that bus pulled up, Morgan approached the bus driver, trying to get on without a ticket, explaining he got to the bus station after it had closed, testified Richard Lee Brockwell Jr., the regular bus driver on the route from New York to Richmond.
Brockwell told Morgan he would see if any extra seats were available after he had loaded the people who had tickets. Then he forgot about Morgan until a homeless man who frequents the bus station and helps passengers with their luggage reminded Brockwell about him, the bus driver said.
The homeless man, known as Ali, knocked on the bus door as Brockwell was about to pull out and said, "You gonna take this guy who doesn't have a ticket?" Brockwell testified. The bus driver said he had some empty seats so Morgan could get on.
"I chewed him out for not getting there in time to get a ticket," Brockwell said of Morgan.
Morgan got off the bus when it reached Richmond about 4:20 a.m. the next day, he said. Tierra's body would be found later that day.
"He was very polite, normal," Brockwell said of Morgan when questioned about his demeanor. "There was nothing unusual about him."
Six days before, Morgan had been fired from a job that he held for almost a year because he was habitually late and talked on the phone when he was supposed to be working, witnesses testified. He had money troubles and was homeless but had dreams of reuniting with Benton and having her stay at home with Tierra while he supported the family.
Morgan's lawyer has not denied that his client put his daughter in the creek but said that because he was troubled by the loss of his job and homelessness, he put Tierra there alive to let God decide her fate.
When Morgan had a job, he fought with Benton on the phone. He didn't want her to go to school or to work, said Tulio Bazan, who had worked with Morgan as a machine operator at Creative Building Supplies in Lakewood Township, N.J.
Morgan liked to spend money on clothes — a $400 Gucci wallet, Gucci sunglasses, Gucci shoes, Bazan said.
The wallet cost almost a week's pay. Morgan would be paid on Tuesdays and be broke before the weekend, said Morgan's former co-worker, who told him he was being unrealistic.
"Artie, no judge in the world will ever give you custody of a child because you're living in a car," Bazan said.Timeline of events
• 2 p.m. ET Nov. 21, 2011: Imani Benton meets her daughter's father, Arthur Morgan III, in a Dollar General Store parking lot in Lakehurst, N.J., so he can take her to an afternoon movie.
• Afternoon: Instead of taking the girl, Tierra Morgan-Glover, to see dancing penguins in Happy Feet Two, they drive around for hours in his white 1995 Cadillac Deville.
• 6 p.m.: Morgan is accused of throwing Tierra off a bridge in Shark River Park in Wall Township, N.J., where she dies.
• 6:24 p.m.: Morgan enters a liquor store with his friend, Jamar Bass, to buy a bottle of rum. Then Jamar Bass, drops Morgan off at the Asbury Park, N.J., train station.
• 6:30 p.m.: Morgan calls Benton to say he's running late and will drop Tierra off after he gets gas.
• About 7 p.m.: Morgan is seen on a platform at the Asbury Park train station.
• 8 p.m.: Morgan gets off a New Jersey Transit train at Long Branch, transfers to Newark train.
• 9 p.m.: Morgan's visitation order with Tierra officially ends.
• 9:16 p.m.: Morgan arrives in Newark, makes a purchase at another liquor store.
• 10 p.m.: Morgan ends four hours of text messages, 59 total, with Benton reassuring her that Tierra was "resting."
• 10:15 p.m.: Morgan talks his way onto a Greyhound bus bound for Richmond, Va., without buying a ticket.
• 11 p.m.: Benton files a missing person's report with Lakehurst, N.J., police on her daughter.
• 3 a.m. Nov. 22: Police find Morgan's Cadillac outside Bass's apartment in Ocean Township, N.J., with no sign of Tierra.
• 4:20 a.m.: Morgan arrives in Richmond and boards a second Greyhound bus to Memphis about 40 minutes later.
• 2:30 p.m.: Teens discover Tierra's body in creek at Shark River Park.
• 2 a.m. Nov. 23: Morgan transfers to another bus in Memphis whose destination is San Diego. Morgan had lived in California as a child.
• 2 p.m.: Morgan gets off the San Diego-bound bus in Elk City, Okla., but eventually boards another one to San Deigo.
• Nov. 25: 100 people, including Benton, gather for a vigil for Tierra at Shark River Park.
• Nov. 28: Tierra's funeral is held in Asbury Park.
• 4:30 p.m. PT Nov. 29: Morgan is arrested at a house in San Diego after a nationwide manhunt.
• Dec. 1: San Diego judge orders Morgan to be returned to New Jersey to face a charge of murdering his daughter. He will be held until his trial on a $10 million cash-only bail.