TAMPA — A jury convicted Richard McTear Jr. on Thursday of savagely beating his ex-girlfriend and throwing her baby to its death on the side of Interstate 275 five years ago.
Outside the courtroom, surrounded by a phalanx of friends and relatives, the baby's mother and father held each other in a long embrace. Jasmine Bedwell, 22, a foster child when her baby was conceived, wept on the shoulder of Emanuel Murray Sr., who was in prison on gun charges when his son died. Though neither parent would speak to reporters, the baby's great-uncle, Ike Thompson, offered jurors his thanks and gave them a piece of advice.
"Burn him," he said.
It took the jury more than seven hours to find McTear guilty of all charges, including first-degree murder, kidnapping, battery, aggravated child abuse and burglary. Their verdict set the stage for a penalty hearing in which the same jurors will decide whether to recommend that McTear pay for the baby's murder with his life or that he spend the rest of his years in prison.
In Florida, a death penalty recommendation requires a simple majority, with only seven votes needed. That phase of the trial could begin as early as next week.
McTear remained expressionless as the verdict was read. Eyes downcast, he stared at the table in front of him, the same pose he held through two weeks of jury selection and testimony. He is 26 but could pass for 16.
The state's first attempt to try him for murder went awry last year after a distraught Bedwell told jurors that he threatened to shoot her son in the face and urinate on him. Her allegations, related to earlier charges of which McTear was acquitted, led to a mistrial.
Bedwell was 17 years old on May 5, 2009, when her ex-boyfriend committed what prosecutors called "the ultimate act of revenge."
Their relationship was months old and marked by violence. At the encouragement of her foster care case managers, who supervised her while she lived on her own, Bedwell sought a restraining order against McTear. A day before her baby died, she was due to appear in court to finalize the order, but she didn't show up.
On that May night, Bedwell returned home from a male friend's house with her 3-month-old son, Emanuel Murray Jr. When she locked the front door behind her, McTear pounced.
At 21 years of age, he had racked up 16 arrests, beginning with larceny at age 13 and domestic violence at 14. Women who fell for him later asked judges to keep him as far away from them as possible.
Photographs of the bite marks left on Bedwell's face, neck and shoulder tell the story of their fight that night. In the pictures, it's possible to make out the shape of individual teeth in her bruised flesh.
Prosecutors said that after beating Bedwell, McTear shifted his attention to her son, who was belted into his car seat. He poured soda on the baby's face and threw him across the room. Sensing an opportunity to escape, Bedwell grabbed her son and headed for the door. But as she crossed the threshold, McTear pulled the child back and the boy fell to the concrete in their struggle, according to testimony.
Bedwell ran to a friend's apartment to call 911, leaving Emanuel behind with the man who had cared for her during her pregnancy and watched her baby be delivered.
On the witness stand, she offered conflicting testimony about that night, muddying the question of whether the baby was dropped or thrown. Her words played into the defense's strategy of holding her up as the state's key witness while working to discredit her. In court documents, attorneys for McTear have claimed she had a reputation for "violence and dishonesty," and proposed that she was a suspect in the case.
Throughout the trial, the defense attorneys maintained that there was no evidence McTear threw Emanuel onto the shoulder of I-275 near the Fowler Ave exit. No one saw McTear drive away, and no one saw an infant in a blue outfit fly through the damp night air.
Disregarding the baby's bloodstains found on McTear's shorts and in a car he was known to occasionally borrow, they accused the press of exaggerating the story to gin up public outrage.
"There's no clear explanation of how that baby got to the side of that road," Assistant Public Defender Mike Peacock said in his closing argument.
Jurors, some of whom cried when photographs of the dead child were shown, concluded otherwise.
Asked in 2009 what she wanted for McTear, Bedwell did not hesitate. "I want him to die in a horrible way," she said.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.