TAMPA — If anyone thought the passage of another year would dim the public's memory of a dead infant on the side of Interstate 275, they were wrong.
Jury selection began on Monday in the state's second attempt to convict Richard McTear Jr. of killing his girlfriend's 3-month-old son, who was tossed from a car window onto the highway. But from the outset, it was clear that the process of finding impartial jurors with little exposure to the facts of the case could be a marathon event.
Asked by a judge for a show of hands of who had read or watched news reports about the case, roughly half of the 200 prospective jurors raised their hands. By the end of the day, 135 of them remained, the others dismissed because they knew too much or had already passed judgment. Though many could recall only the vaguest of details, nearly everyone remembered that a baby had been thrown from a moving car.
One woman burst into tears when she was asked what she knew about the case. "It's just very disturbing," she said before she was excused.
"I thought the case had disappeared somewhere," said a man who reported for jury duty. "When I saw it on the sheet, the name McTear, I just cringed." He also was sent home.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente has set aside four weeks for McTear's trial, one of them entirely for jury selection. Some of the difficulty in selecting 12 jurors to judge McTear is due to the Hillsborough state attorney's decision to seek the death penalty. The process of finding jurors who are willing to put someone to death is more rigorous and time-consuming than jury selection for any other kind of trial.
Florida law dictates that the same jury chosen to decide a defendant's guilt must stay on for the second portion of the trial, called the penalty phase. After hearing new arguments, the jury recommends either death or life imprisonment, advice to which the judges must give "great weight."
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.
Five years have passed since the day in May 2009, when Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr. was found dead on the side of Interstate 275 near Fowler Avenue. Now 26 years old, McTear appeared in court on Monday looking more baby-faced than he had at the time of his arrest. After slipping on a tie that his attorney had knotted, he pulled on an oversized suit jacket to complete the look of a child dressing in his father's clothes. His father watched from the back of the courtroom.
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, then driving off with the boy and tossing him out the window of a moving car. His car was found abandoned an hour after a passer-by spotted the baby.
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, defense attorneys say, who has placed McTear in her apartment immediately before the baby's death.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow her @annamphillips.