When fellow students taunted him about being in special education, or cross-town sports rivals jeered, or family squabbles turned ugly, the anger in young Eddie Morgan would build like the steam in a pressure cooker.
More often than not, Morgan would explode, his placid, boyish features twisting in rage, his fists, fired by a bodybuilder's bulk, thudding in an almost cathartic frenzy.
As abruptly as it started, the storm of violence would end. In its wake, there would be a jagged hole in his bedroom wall or a battered teen-ager's face or, later, young girls bloodied and assaulted.
And there would be Morgan, charming and repentant, suddenly worried about the wreckage.
"You could see it in him," said Brian Hoyt, Morgan's high school special education teacher. "He'd try to get out of it. A tear would come to his eye and he'd say, 'I'm sorry. I'll never do it again.' Then, of course, he would."
Today, Edward Patrick Morgan, 28, sits in an isolation cell in Orange County Jail, charged with savagely beating to death a 23-year-old Huntington Beach woman outside an Orange nightclub and ripping apart her insides with an object police have yet to find. His case has raised questions about the criminal justice system's treatment of serial rapists and angered some who say Morgan never should have been free to claim another victim.
In the past decade, Morgan was accused four times of sexual assault. Three times he was convicted, but his brief prison stays--never more than two years--did little to change his behavior.
Morgan's is not a new story--his troubled future was foreshadowed in his high school years. He was the shy one with the easy smile. Towheaded, California handsome. Athletic.
But "little Eddie" Morgan had a tripwire. Now his teen-age bursts of violence seem prophetic, signals of a growing frustration that friends and neighbors say was born at home.
Interviews with dozens of Morgan's high school classmates, current friends, former teachers, coaches, neighbors and victims, as well as court documents and parole and police reports, detail a pattern of behavior that seemed to escalate unchecked by any friend or authority.
"If you don't have a substantial way to break that pattern, it'll just keep happening, and it doesn't get any better," said Mike Wellins, a licensed therapist and crisis intervention counselor who worked up a psychological profile of the Huntington Beach woman's killer for the Orange Police Department before Morgan was arrested. "That behavior doesn't just magically go away."
Behind the thick plexiglass of a jail visitor's booth, Morgan said he wasn't "some mean basher that ripped some girl apart with my bare hands."
While he did not deny the first two sexual assaults that sent him to prison, he insisted that the accusations of the second two were unfounded. And he said he would not blame his troubles on his home life.
"I have the most wonderful, caring parents anyone could have," he said, cradling the jail phone between tightly handcuffed wrists. "Everyone's trying to blame my parents for everything, and it's not true. I've had good times and bad times like anyone else. Most parents would have given up on their kid a long time ago."
Morgan did not dispute his high school friends' accounts of almost daily violence at the Morgans' spacious, two-story Madia Circle home in La Palma.
"No comment," he said when asked about it. His father denies it.
"That's not true," his father said. "Talk to Ed. He's trying to set the record straight."
Morgan's friends, a tightknit group known as the Bellhaven Boys after the street where many of them lived, recalled how they would often head to Morgan's house after school for an afternoon of lifting weights or hanging out by the back-yard pool.
Inevitably, friends said, confrontations, often physical, would occur between Morgan and his parents, most often with his mother--something that both Morgan and his parents deny.
Bill Weatherill, a close friend who has known Morgan since junior high school, said he never knew what a visit to the Morgan household would be like. "It was like you were always walking on eggshells."
Despite the heated exchanges, and the violence that Morgan showed with others, "he never raised a hand toward his mother or father," said Chris, a close friend who has known Morgan since eighth grade and spoke on the condition that his last name not be used.
Of Morgan's pent-up fury, Chris said, "I think he saved it for everyone else."
Neighbor Libby McElmurry recalls hearing his mother's shouts ring out among the well-kept homes in the cul-de-sac, then the roar of Eddie Morgan's car speeding off.
But Morgan never complained to his friends. "It was like family business and that's it. In that house you never talked about anything that happened in the family," Weatherill recalled.
Morgan's parents, Diana, 49, and Edward Sr., 53, a retired Hoover vacuum executive, now live in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, Ohio, and have declined to talk in detail about their son.