TAMPA — Jury selection will begin Monday in the state's second attempt to convict Richard McTear Jr. of killing his girlfriend's 3-month-old son and tossing him from a car window onto the highway.
McTear's first murder trial in 2013 ended abruptly days after it began when the baby's mother, Jasmine Bedwell, testified about threats McTear allegedly made toward her infant son. The alleged threats were related to earlier charges of which McTear had been acquitted and were not supposed to be discussed at trial. Bedwell's unexpected comments led the judge to declare a mistrial.
Finding jurors with little exposure to news reports about the case proved difficult in 2013 — it took five days and hundreds of potential jurors — and it could this time as well. Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente has set aside weeks for the trial, which could run into August. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Five years have passed since the day in May 2009, when Emanuel Wesley Murray was found dead on the side of Interstate 275 near Fowler Avenue.
Law enforcement authorities said McTear, who was not the boy's father, attacked Bedwell and her son in her apartment. He is accused of throwing Emanuel onto the concrete before tossing the child out the window of a moving car.
Then 17 years old, Bedwell was in foster care at the time of the incident, living in an apartment found for her in a subsidized independent living program aimed at helping her become an adult. According to a report released by the Department of Children and Families after Emanuel's death, Bedwell had been under the periodic supervision of social workers and case managers, but none of them checked McTear's background. If they had, they would have found a string of arrests for crimes such as aggravated assault, child neglect and several domestic violence charges, the first at age 14.
The day before Emanuel died, Bedwell was scheduled to appear in court to seek a restraining order against McTear, but she never showed. In her request for protection, she claimed that McTear had violent tendencies, mental health problems and was armed and dangerous.
Attorneys for McTear have called Bedwell's credibility into doubt. She is the prosecution's key witness, and the only person who has placed McTear in her apartment immediately before the baby's death.
In motions filed before the trial, defense attorneys said they had evidence that on the same day her son was killed, Bedwell made a phone call in which she blamed someone other than McTear for the boy's murder.
"Jasmine Bedwell has a well-known reputation in the community for both violence and dishonesty," wrote Assistant Public Defender Mike Peacock. He later added: "Based upon conflicting pretrial statements made by Ms. Bedwell it is completely unknown what Ms. Bedwell will testify to at the trial of this cause."