TAMPA — Attorneys for Richard McTear Jr., who was convicted last week of murdering his former girlfriend's son by throwing him onto the side of Interstate 275, pleaded with a jury Monday to show mercy for him and reject the death penalty.
Five years after he killed 3-month-old Emanuel Murray Jr., McTear's future rests in the hands of the same jury that found him guilty of first-degree murder and a series of lesser charges. After hearing testimony from victims and members of McTear's family, jurors will vote later this week on whether to recommend that he pay for the baby's murder with his life or spend the rest of his years in prison. In Florida, a death penalty recommendation requires a simple majority — only seven votes are needed.
"My role is simply to ask you to spare my client's life," Assistant Public Defender Theda James told jurors. "A sentence of death would only be vengeance. Vengeance is not what a civilized society is about."
To bolster their argument, defense attorneys retained psychologist Steven Gold, who examined McTear, 26, on two occasions in 2012 and diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. McTear was "acting on autopilot," Gold said, when he beat up his ex-girlfriend Jasmine Bedwell, 22, and killed her child.
Most often associated with war veterans who return home and experience flashbacks, PTSD is also found in adults who were abused as children, Gold said.
McTear had few relatives who did not let him down, but his mother was the most frightening figure in his life, Gold said. Incarcerated for most of her son's childhood, Jackline Patton emerged from prison with a drug habit and a violent streak. As a teenager, McTear watched her beat up the women she dated. He didn't approve of her "alternative lifestyle," James said, and he quarreled with her girlfriends.
When he was 16 years old and in a cast after a basketball injury, she tossed him out of the house and threw his crutches after him. When he was 17, she stuck a knife in his neck and back when he refused to sell drugs to her.
Years later, Patton is wracked with guilt, Gold said. "I've never spoken to a parent who was so distraught and so honest and frank," he said, recalling how she cried when he interviewed her. "She felt largely responsible for the path that his life had taken."
There were other sources of betrayal.
McTear's father, who testified in his son's defense Monday, provided financial support but not much parenting. After retiring from the military in 1996, he became addicted to crack cocaine. McTear's paternal grandmother, with whom he sometimes lived, was an alcoholic who ran a bar out of her home and encouraged her grandchild to drink with her. Only his maternal grandmother remained a source of comfort.
"Mr. McTear, because of his experiences, had a very firm belief that anybody could represent danger to him at any moment," Gold said. When he felt betrayed, he lashed out.
Prosecutors pointed to a number of aggravating factors in his crime that could lead the jury to agree with them. McTear's victim was under 12 years old, they said, and he had a prior conviction for a violent felony. They called on a former girlfriend of his, Louvena Cromartie, to testify about the night in 2008 when he entered her apartment and found her alone with a male friend. After she told him to leave, he punched her in the face, fracturing the bones in her left eye socket. Less than a year later, he broke into Bedwell's apartment, witnessed her saying good night to a male friend, and pounced on her and her child.
Bedwell has previously said she wants McTear to get the death penalty.
"My son Emanuel, better known as Lil' E, will never get to meet his brothers and sisters," she wrote in a prepared statement that was read to the jury. "He never got to see or even feel the presence of his dad, Emanuel Murray Sr. He didn't even get a chance to see his first birthday."
Contact Anna M. Phillips at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow her @annamphillips.