TAMPA — A Hillsborough County jury had a final answer Friday for a year-and-a-half-long struggle to prove who killed Makaila Thompson, a 2-year-old toddler who died of a torn heart.
The jury decided it was not her 4-year-old brother, Keyondre. A public defender had suggested Keyondre could have jumped on his baby sister's chest as they played.
Instead, the jury decided it was the six-time convicted felon who was babysitting them that day, Sept. 5, 2008.
After deliberating 10 hours over two days, five women and seven men found Robert Bradwell, 36, guilty of first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse.
Circuit Judge William Fuente quickly sentenced Bradwell to life without parole for murder, plus 30 years for aggravated child abuse.
Before sentencing, Bradwell said he is a good person and told Fuente that he didn't kill Makaila; it was all a mistake, he'd been demonized by the media, and the judge could have been in his shoes.
"Anyone in this courtroom could be in my shoes," he said.
Looking at his family behind him, Bradwell said he sought no vengeance against Makaila's mother, or any of her family.
Bradwell was the boyfriend of Monique Thompson, then 24. They lived together in an apartment on N 20th Street in Tampa, down the street from a sheriff's substation. She left her children, Makaila and Keyondre, in Bradwell's care while she worked a night shift at a Walmart Neighborhood Market.
After that night, Keyondre told his grandmother, Barbara Thompson, he saw how his sister died. Bradwell "stepped on Makaila," he said. He said he tried to save his sister.
"I told him to stop," the boy told Thompson.
Keyondre, now 6, was deemed too young to testify in court. What he told his grandmother was ruled inadmissible hearsay.
Instead, the jury heard a theory from Assistant Public Defender Theda James that Keyondre had jumped on his sister's chest, and that Bradwell was unaware of her injury.
Bradwell showed up at midnight at University Community Hospital on Fletcher Avenue with Makaila in his arms. She wasn't breathing and was cold to the touch. He told emergency room nurses she had fallen in the shower.
A detective at the hospital noted that Makaila's diaper was filled with dirt and leaves, and her hands and feet were filthy. She had bruises and a dark handprint across the side of her face. But Bradwell wasn't arrested. He lived with Monique Thompson for a month before a forensics investigation was completed and sheriff's deputies felt they had enough evidence to charge him with murder.
This week, the jury relied on testimony by a medical examiner that Makaila's injuries — which included a torn heart, a torn major vein to the heart, and a bleeding liver — were consistent with injuries from a beating by an adult.
Hillsborough County Assistant Medical Examiner Jacqueline Lee said the injuries conceivably could have been caused by a child, if the child were large and jumping from a "really, really, really high bed."
Keyondre weighed 35 pounds.
Bradwell was 6-feet-3 and weighed 200 pounds.
As soon as the verdict was read, jurors rushed from the courthouse. They said they didn't want to hear the sentencing or talk about the case.
Families of Bradwell and Monique Thompson sat apart, weeping. Bradwell's former wife, Sandra Bradwell, told the judge that he had been a loving grandfather to her grandkids.
Makaila's mother faced Bradwell one more time — from across the room as he sat flanked by armed bailiffs.
"I'm ripped apart," she told Bradwell, sobbing. "But I have to get on with my life.
"So I have to forgive you."