Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jurors sifting through complex issues in babysitter's murder trial

TAMPA — A judge spared 12 jurors an all-nighter Tuesday, after they told him they weren't close to a verdict in a first-degree murder trial and wanted to go home and sleep on it.

The jurors deliberated four hours Tuesday over whether Eric James Tate, 23, killed Heather Romance, the 2-year-old Lutz girl he babysat in August 2006.

Closing arguments in the case highlighted complexities for both the prosecution and the defense that could have given the jurors plenty to sleep on.

The prosecution says Tate either threw or hit Heather, causing fatal brain injuries. It suggested he was angered when she wet the bed. It produced testimony from doctors who said that in 30 years they had never seen such serious injuries from a minor, accidental fall.

The defense says Heather fell off a sofa and hit her head on the floor. It produced a videotaped re-creation of that scenario using a toddler-sized crash-test dummy from Detroit. It also showed the jury a real-life video of an unnamed 2-year-old girl who died from brain injuries when she fell off a small play set in her family's garage. One expert said 20 to 30 children die every year from such falls.

In closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters urged the jurors to consider all the injuries to Heather, not just the fatal ones in her brain.

Those included bruises on her chin and neck, her forehead and her lower back and thigh. They included bleeding from her retinas and in the optic nerve area behind her eyes.

"The bruises are a road map to her death," Peters said.

In terms of motive, Peters said Tate was under heavy stress, unemployed and living off Heather's single mother, Amy Romance, who was pregnant.

"It only takes a spark to start a forest fire," Peters said.

But defense attorney Brian Gonzalez repeatedly emphasized lack of motive.

Tate, he said, is the son of a child-care provider. He has years of babysitting experience. "He's quiet, unassuming," Gonzalez said. "He has no history of abuse in a relationship."

Gonzalez told the jury his crash-test dummy tests and video of a real-life fatal accidental fall added up to "a totally plausible theory of innocence."

One thing the jury never heard about: a charge that Tate raped Heather, brought against Tate in 2006, then dropped last week. Unmentioned during the seven-day trial were reports from St. Joseph's Hospital of "recent genital trauma." A report by a Sheriff's Office child protection officer also noted "extensive" bruises and lacerations of the child's genitals.

The prosecution didn't explain why that wasn't part of the trial.

The jury resumes deliberations today in Circuit Judge William Fuente's court.

John Barry can be reached at or (813) 226-3383.

Jurors sifting through complex issues in babysitter's murder trial 06/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 10:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Sharknado' coming to Tampa Theatre with director Q&A


    A movie about a tornado filled with man-eating sharks has to be better on the big screen, right? You'll have a chance to find out for yourself when the Syfy network's original Sharknado screens at Tampa Theatre.

    The original 'Sharknado,' which premiered in 2013, will screen at Tampa Theatre.
  2. Coast Guard airlifts man from fishing boat in Gulf of Mexico

    Public Safety

    A 27-year-old man was evacuated from a fishing boat in the Gulf of Mexico by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter Saturday night, authorities said.

  3. Trump: Not 'that far off' from passing health overhaul


    WASHINGTON — Making a final push, President Donald Trump said he doesn't think congressional Republicans are "that far off" on a health overhaul to replace "the dead carcass of Obamacare." Expressing frustration, he complained about "the level of hostility" in government and wondered why both parties can't work …

    President Donald Trump speaks during a bill signing event for the "Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017" in the East Room of the White House, Friday, June 23, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) DCEV208
  4. Erin Andrews, ex-NHL player Jarret Stoll marry in Montana


    NEW YORK — Sportscaster Erin Andrews and former NHL player Jarret Stoll have tied the knot.

    FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2016 file photo, Fox Sports broadcaster Erin Andrews, left, speaks with Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones after an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Atlanta. Jennifer Allen, a publicist for Andrews, confirms Sunday, June 25, 2017, that the 38-year-old Fox Sports sideline reporter and ???‚??“Dancing with the Stars???‚?? co-host married the 35-year-old Stoll over the weekend.  (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) NYSP103
  5. Amid FBI probe of Tallahassee, Gillum says GOP trying to 'put as much dirt on me as they can'


    Tallahassee mayor and candidate for governor Andrew Gillum might like his supporters to think a federal investigation into development deals in his city is political – but …

    Andrew Gillum