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Defense takes aim at veracity of baby's mother in McTear murder trial

TAMPA — Jasmine Bedwell says she knows that Richard McTear Jr. killed her infant son five years ago, when she was a teenager living under the watch of Hillsborough County's foster care agency. But that's not what a former caseworker remembers her saying at the time.

Attorneys representing McTear, 26, worked to dismantle Bedwell's version of events Tuesday, calling on her former placement specialist with Camelot Community Care, a contract foster care agency. Keshia Coffie told jurors that Bedwell called her from the hospital on May 5, 2009, the day her son was killed. She was crying hysterically and screaming into the phone.

"I remember her saying, 'My baby dead, my baby dead, my uncle beat me up and killed my baby,' " Coffie said. "She asked me to help."

From the start of Mc­Tear's murder trial a week ago, his attorneys have tried to discredit Bedwell, their client's main accuser, by saying she is an unreliable witness who has given different accounts of what happened. Questioned about Coffie's statements days ago, Bedwell, 22, told the jury that she does not have an uncle and has never used the word to refer to anyone. She pointed at McTear when asked to identify her assailant.

The defendant's father, Richard McTear Sr., took a brief turn on the witness stand Tuesday, when he testified that several times before her 3-month-old son, Emanuel Murray, was killed, Bedwell sent him ominous text messages.

"She was talking like she would harm herself or harm the baby," he said, his voice as flat and affectless as his son's demeanor throughout the trial. Not knowing what to do, he showed the message to his son, he said, who assured him everything was okay. "He would say, 'Oh, she just tripping, she just tripping.' "

But when McTear Sr. presented his cellphone to defense attorneys months after his son's arrest, they were unable to recover any messages. A likely "coincidence," a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Over prosecutors' objections, defense attorneys questioned one of Bedwell's former teachers, Thomas Scaglione, who became a mentor to her as she worked toward a high school diploma in the GED program. Scaglione said he remembered overhearing Bedwell's phone conversation as she walked out of his class on May 4, a day before her son was killed.

"She said, 'Give me my baby back, m----- f-----,' " he recalled. When he confronted her, Bedwell told him her son had been taken from her at the mall a day before. Later that day, he pressed her further and she told him, "I lied, Mr. Tom. That's what I do."

In her testimony, Bedwell said she couldn't remember this conversation taking place; her baby had never been kidnapped in a mall, she said.

Cross-examined by prosecutors, Scaglione said there was more to his conversation with Bedwell. She had told him that her baby had been taken from her because her boyfriend didn't want her to go to court and get a restraining order against him. Court records show that Bedwell was seeking a permanent domestic violence injunction against McTear, but missed a court hearing to follow up.

To counter prosecutors' claims that McTear viciously attacked Bedwell in the hours before her son was killed, the defense hired a Georgia-based expert in forensic dentistry and flew him to Tampa. In several hours of testimony, Dr. Thomas David said he had analyzed the same evidence as the prosecution's expert witness, and concluded that it was impossible to definitively say McTear bit Bedwell.

Defense attorneys rested their case Tuesday. Both sides are expected to make closing arguments today.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

Defense takes aim at veracity of baby's mother in McTear murder trial 07/29/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:38pm]
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