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Key witness takes stand in McTear murder trial

TAMPA — A year after she caused a mistrial, Jasmine Bedwell came to court again, appearing nervous and eager not to make another mistake.

On Wednesday, the second day of the state's murder trial of Richard McTear Jr., his defense attorneys took Bedwell, the defendant's former girlfriend, back to the predawn hours of May 5, 2009, the day her infant son was found dead on the side of the interstate. She was supposed to deliver a straight-forward story, one that would leave jurors with no doubt about who was responsible for her son's death.

But after relentless cross-examination, defense attorneys had elicited from her two entirely different explanations for what happened to 3-month-old Emanuel Murray.

What the prosecution has said was an act of premeditated murder, Bedwell's testimony clouded with statements that may ultimately aid in McTear's defense.

Asked to recall the events of that night, Bedwell, 22, described how she had returned home from a friend's house in the early morning hours and was attacked by McTear, 26. Her ex-boyfriend had been waiting for her and the moment she locked the front door behind her, he pounced on her with such ferocity that the next day, a dentist was able to take impressions of the bite marks he left on her skin. McTear punched and choked her, she said, leaving her covered in bruises.

Through tears and frequent bouts of sobbing, Bedwell recalled how McTear then reached into the fridge, grabbed a soda, and poured it on her sleeping child's face. He picked up the infant's car seat and threw it across the room, she said. Emanuel began to cry. "Make him shut the f--- up," McTear ordered her.

Sensing this was her moment to escape, Bedwell said she quickly freed Emanuel from the car seat and ran, cradling the baby in her left arm and reaching to unlock the front door with her right. McTear was fast behind her, she said.

"He grabbed the baby, threw him to the concrete," she said, laying blame for the baby's injuries wholly on McTear. Bedwell had once been fond enough of McTear to get his nickname, "Rico," tattooed on her neck, but that was ancient history; her past devotion has been hidden under a rose design. She was covering up for no one, she said, including herself.

In the call to 911 that a hysterical Bedwell made that night, and that the prosecution played for the jury, she can be heard giving a dispatcher this same description of the incident. But as Assistant Public Defender Mike Peacock continued to pelt her with questions, leaping back and forward in time so that Bedwell began to appear confused, she lost control of the narrative. Interviewed by law enforcement officials, she had initially reported that McTear threw the baby carrier twice, but on Wednesday she was saying he'd done it once.

"It's been a long time, I'm having a hard time remembering," she said, eliciting a sarcastic retort from Peacock. "You don't remember how many times your baby was thrown?" he asked.

As she became more distressed, the defense attorney offered a different explanation for the child's fall, suggesting it was an accident, not an act of cruelty by an enraged ex-boyfriend. Emanuel was caught in a tug of war between Bedwell and McTear, Peacock said. Bedwell was pulling him out the door; McTear was grabbing for the boy.

"The baby fell to the ground, is that what happened?" he asked, raising his voice. Bedwell was silent. "Is that what happened?" he tried again. "Yes," she said. A juror began to cry.

The exchanges went to the core of a case that has centered on Bedwell as the sole and problematic witness to McTear's alleged violence. A year ago, the state's first attempt to try McTear for murder ended in a mistrial after she told a jury that her former boyfriend had threatened her child's life. Bedwell had been instructed not to mention this detail in court, as it related to a different case against McTear in which he had been acquitted.

From the start of this second trial, defense attorneys have sought to discredit Bedwell, portraying her as a dishonest young woman who has blamed her son's death on different people at different times. Whether she realized on Wednesday that she may have bolstered their argument was unclear; she left the courtroom in tears.

Prosecutors have said their case is built on much more than Bedwell's testimony. Though no one saw McTear throw Emanuel onto the side of I-275 after the confrontation, as he is accused of doing, Assistant State Attorney Ron Gale has said that DNA found in the blood stains on McTear's shorts matched that of the baby, whose blood also was discovered in the car McTear was known to drive.

Emanuel was killed by "multiple and severe skull fractures," he told jurors on Tuesday. "This could not have happened just by the baby being dropped."

Contact Anna M. Phillips at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.

Key witness takes stand in McTear murder trial 07/23/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 10:34pm]
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