Attorneys for a Howard County teenager who is accused of plotting to kill her father portrayed her Tuesday as a frail, anti-social loner who suffers depression and still loves stuffed animals.
Morgan Lane Arnold, 16, appeared in Howard County Circuit Court as her attorneys sought to have her case moved to the juvenile system.
She is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder in the May 2013 death of her father, 58-year-old Dennis Lane, a well-known businessman and blogger in Howard County.
If the girl were convicted in the juvenile system, she could be released by age 21. If convicted as an adult, she could be sentenced to life in prison.
Morgan Arnold was 14 at the time of the killing. Prosecutors allege she asked her then-boyfriend, Jason Bulmer, to kill her father because "she was sick of him."
Dennis Lane was stabbed to death in his Ellicott City home. Bulmer, 20, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the killing; he was sentenced last week to 30 years in prison.
Arnold's mother told Judge William Tucker that when her daughter was a toddler, she would become hysterical around other children.
"She couldn't tolerate even being physically near them," Cindi Arnold said.
The mother, who smiled at her daughter from the witness stand, recalled that Morgan's day care provider gave her a desk placed off to the side so she could be away from the other children.
"She was in her own world most of the time," Cindi Arnold said.
The girl was later diagnosed with Asperger's, a form of autism, as well as anxiety and depression, she said.
Prosecutors tried to poke holes in the defense portrayal, asserting that Arnold had friends and interacted with her peers. They played a YouTube video from a few years ago showing Morgan dancing and laughing with a neighbor to the pop song "Rockstar" by Prima J.
Cindi Arnold was never married to Lane, and the two were sharing custody at the time of Lane's death. They often disagreed on how to best treat their daughter's social and emotional issues, according to court testimony.
The state's Department of Juvenile Services has recommended the girl be tried as an adult, according to a case management specialist who testified Tuesday.
Morgan Arnold read a book throughout the hearing, a blue stuffed turtle sitting on the defense table in front of her and a tan stuffed bunny rabbit with droopy ears placed in a chair behind her. She wore a long pink skirt and black "Hello Kitty" top, with shackles around the pink, patterned socks she had pulled up to cover her lower legs.
In the gallery of the courtroom, her supporters wore stickers with the letter "M" for Morgan. Friends of Lane wore button pins with his photograph.
Cindi Arnold said Morgan as a child was obsessed with animals and would growl or make other animal noises when she didn't want to be near other kids. Later, she wore cat ears while attending Ellicott Mills Middle School. As a student at Mount Hebron High School, she became focused on technology, and her computer was her "lifeline," connecting her to children she met playing online games.
After her arrest last year, Morgan was detained at the Howard County Detention Center, then transferred to the Spring Grove Hospital Center, a state-run psychiatric facility in Catonsville. She is now being held at Waxter Children's Center in Laurel.
Psychiatrist Maximilian Badoy, who treated Morgan at Spring Grove, said she was respectful and gracious.
Badoy was called by prosecutors to testify for the state. He said Morgan often was reading, but she interacted with other adolescents and never showed violence or aggression.
At one point, he said, she told nurses she was having thoughts of killing people, but she did not intend to carry them out.
The hearing is scheduled to continue Wednesday with testimony from additional prosecution witnesses. Tucker will have 10 days after the hearing to decide whether to transfer the case to juvenile court.