National Roundup

 New Jersey

Trial begins over  creek-toss death of 2-year-old girl 
FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — The murder trial of a man charged with tossing his 2-year-old daughter into a creek while still strapped into her car seat began Wednesday with opening statements.
Arthur Morgan III of Eatontown is accused of weighing down the seat with a tire-changing jack so it would sink. He is charged with killing his daughter, Tierra Morgan-Glover.
Her body was found partially submerged in a creek at Shark River Park in Wall Township, about 20 miles north of her Lakehurst home, on Nov. 22, 2011. Prosecutors say Morgan had asked the girl’s mother if he could take Tierra to see a movie about dancing penguins. When he didn’t return her after a few hours, the mother, Imani Benton, called police.
In addition to the murder charge, Morgan is charged with interference with custody and child endangerment. He faces a maximum sentence of life without parole, plus 15 years to be served consecutively, if convicted.
According to prosecutors, Morgan tossed the car seat, with his daughter strapped snugly inside its protective belts, from an overpass into the chilly water of the creek. To ensure that it sank, he had attached a car jack, the heavy metal contraption used to raise a car’s chassis to change a flat tire, prosecutors said.
Her cause of death was listed as “homicidal violence, including submersion in water.” An autopsy determined that the child was alive when she hit the water.
Morgan fled to California following the child’s death and was found in San Diego by a fugitive recovery task force. He was the subject of a nationwide manhunt and had been featured on the website of “America’s Most Wanted” after Tierra’s body was found.

Louisiana
Man who spent 26 years on La. death row free 
ANGOLA, La. (AP) — A man who spent nearly 26 years on death row in Louisiana walked free of prison Tuesday, hours after a judge approved the state’s motion to vacate the man’s murder conviction in the 1983 killing of a jeweler.
Glenn Ford, 64, had been on death row since August 1988 in connection with the death of 56-year-old Isadore Rozeman, a Shreveport jeweler and watchmaker for whom Ford had done occasional yard work. Ford had always denied killing Rozeman.
Ford walked out the maximum security prison at Angola on Tuesday afternoon, said Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for Louisiana’s Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Asked as he walked away from the prison gates about his release, Ford told WAFB-TV, “It feels good; my mind is going in all kind of directions. It feels good.”
Ford told the broadcast outlet he does harbor some resentment at being wrongly jailed: “Yeah, cause, I’ve been locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do.”
“I can’t go back and do anything I should have been doing when I was 35, 38, 40 stuff like that,” he added.
State District Judge Ramona Emanuel on Monday took the step of voiding Ford’s conviction and sentence based on new information that corroborated his claim that he was not present or involved in Rozeman’s death, Ford’s attorneys said. Ford was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 and sentenced to death.
“We are very pleased to see Glenn Ford finally exonerated, and we are particularly grateful that the prosecution and the court moved ahead so decisively to set Mr. Ford free,” said a statement from Gary Clements and Aaron Novod, the attorneys for Ford from the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana.
They said Ford’s trial had been “profoundly compromised by inexperienced counsel and by the unconstitutional suppression of evidence, including information from an informant.” They also cited what they said was a suppressed police report related to the time of the crime and evidence involving the murder weapon.
Currently, there are 83 men and two women serving death sentences in Louisiana, according to Laborde.
A Louisiana law entitles those who have served time but are later exonerated to receive compensation. It calls for payments of $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration up to a maximum of $250,000, plus up to $80,000 for loss of “life opportunities.”
 
Texas
$600K in tithes stolen from Joel Oste­en’s church 
HOUSTON (AP) — Authorities are investigating after $600,000 in checks and cash was stolen from a safe at Pastor Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch, which has one of the largest congregations in the country.
Police spokesman Kese Smith said Tuesday $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks were stolen from a safe sometime between 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 8:30 a.m. Monday.
The theft was reported Monday morning by a church employee and an off-duty sheriff’s deputy who provides security at the facility.
No arrests have been made, Smith said.
Church officials declined to comment Tuesday.
In a statement issued Monday, Lakewood Church said the money and checks taken, as well as some envelopes with written credit card information, were limited to funds given during this past weekend’s Saturday and Sunday services.
“We are working with the police to fully investigate the incident,” the statement reads. “The funds were fully insured, and we are working with our insurance company to restore the stolen funds to the church.”
The church encouraged people who made contributions this past weekend to keep track of their accounts and report any suspicious activity.
But church officials noted there was no electronic data breach and that individuals who put their offerings in a drop box, gave online or made a bookstore purchase were not affected.
More than 40,000 people attend weekly services led by Osteen, whose televised sermons reach nearly 100 countries.
 
New Jersey
Judge blocks dad from presence in delivery room 
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Women in New Jersey can block a baby’s father from the delivery room.
A state judge, citing a woman’s right to privacy, ruled that mothers can decide who will be with them when giving birth.
In an opinion released Monday, the judge cited privacy rights outlined in two federal abortion cases.
The case was argued over the telephone last year in Passaic County while Rebecca DeLuccia went into labor and delivered a girl. Her estranged fiance, Steven Plotnick, wanted access to the baby at birth.
Plotnick’s attorney, Laura Nunnink, tells The Star-Ledger of Newark it was important to her client to bond with the baby.
DeLuccia’s lawyer, Joanna Brick, says DeLuccia allowed Plotnick to visit, and his lawyer says he saw the child.

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