TAMPA — A jury Wednesday afternoon found Richard McTear not guilty on two counts of battery in a domestic dispute that happened two months before authorities say he killed his ex-girlfriend's son.
Jasmine Bedwell, 18, left the courtroom sobbing after she learned of the verdict. Prosecutors tried to prove McTear attacked Bedwell and her neighbor on March 31.
Had McTear been found guilty, the battery convictions could have been used by prosecutors as aggravating factors when they pursue the death penalty in the murder case involving Bedwell's 3-month-old son.
Defense attorneys highlighted inconsistencies in witness statements over two days of testimony.
McTear, 22, took the witness stand Wednesday morning to say that in March altercations with Bedwell, she challenged him first and he reacted.
When he poured a bottle of Fabuloso cleaner over her head, it was because she first threw the bottle at him, he said.
When they began a struggle inside her apartment later, it was because she blocked him from getting his clothes from her bedroom.
When he criticized her clothing, provoking her ire, he said, it was because she was disrespecting herself and them as a couple.
"You ain't gonna respect me," he said he told her, "I'll just leave."
McTear faces a first-degree murder charge, accused of attacking Bedwell and her 3-month-old son in May. Authorities say McTear threw the baby, who was not his, onto the concrete, then drove off with the infant and flung him from a car onto Interstate 275.
The baby was found dead a few feet from interstate traffic.
McTear's attorneys have argued that there is no proof that the baby was thrown from a moving vehicle.
This week, however, their attention has been focused on trying to convince a jury that their client is innocent of two battery charges stemming from the March 31 incident.
Bedwell on Tuesday told the court that McTear wasn't welcome when he came to her apartment complex that day. Police say that within minutes of his arrival, he had attacked Bedwell and her neighbor, Elyanna Gonzalez.
McTear, who has been lectured for outbursts during previous court hearings, took the stand wearing a crisp, gray button-down shirt and tie. His dreadlocks were pulled back in a ponytail.
As he spoke, he at times appeared to become confused by the sequence of events in his relationship with Bedwell. Judge Anthony Black later said the testimony gave him the impression that there were so many incidents between the two that it was hard to keep track of them all.
While being cross-examined by prosecutor Jalal Harb, McTear at times smiled and shrugged, and appeared to be on the verge of laughing.
McTear admitted to knocking the phone from Gonzalez's hands when he saw her calling 911 on March 31, then fleeing the apartment complex. But he did not say that he beat her as other witnesses testified.
"You felt you could handle all these issues?" Harb said. "You didn't need police help, did you?"
"No sir," he said, smiling.
After McTear left the stand and the jury was led away for a brief recess, Harb asked the judge to allow him to bring Bedwell back to the stand to rebut some of McTear's testimony.
Bedwell took a seat and quickly answered two questions from prosecutors.
Did she shove or push McTear on March 31 when he came to her house?
"No," she answered.
Did she hit McTear with a Fabuloso bottle on March 18?
"No," she said again.
Bedwell left the stand and soon took a seat in the front row as attorneys delivered their closing remarks.
Assistant Public Defender Mike Peacock urged jurors to consider the conflicting testimony as to the details of the attacks.
"That is where you find reasonable doubt," he said again and again, after recapping conflicting statements of people who were at the Marbella Apartments when the March 31 incident occurred.
Peacock also reminded jurors that while they heard testimony about other disputes between Bedwell and McTear, including the March 18 attack involving the bottle of household cleaner, their verdict was only about what happened March 31.
"Mr. McTear is not on trial here for anything he may have done on any other day," he said.
Felix Vega, assistant state attorney, told jurors the incident happened quickly and people remember details differently.
Then Vega addressed one piece of testimony that likely picked away at Bedwell's credibility Tuesday. Bedwell admitted that after the March 18 dispute, she'd gotten a tattoo of McTear's nickname on her neck.
"People in love do stupid things," Vega said. "They do things without thinking. They do things without any rationale."
Jurors deliberated for about three hours before reaching their decision.