TAMPA — The family of Beatrice Dickey was disappointed Wednesday when her husband, Lawrence Dickey, was convicted of only second-degree murder for fatally clubbing her with a bat, but her oldest son said jurors didn't know Lawrence Dickey like they did.
"He was drunk every day," said Matt Kirkland, 22. "He'd get drunk and go crazy. I'd come home from college as much as possible because I worried about my mother."
After deliberating six hours Wednesday, a jury rejected the prosecution's contention that Dickey, 46, committed first-degree premeditated murder when he drunkenly attacked his wife. It happened right after they returned to their Plant City home from a Journey concert on Sept. 17, 2011.
A conviction of first-degree murder would have carried an automatic sentence of life in prison.
Dickey could still get a life term when he comes back before Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente on Jan. 25 for sentencing. The lesser conviction of second-degree murder carries a penalty that ranges from 22 years to life.
Jurors contacted later in the day said they had collectively agreed not to comment.
Kirkland, Beatrice Dickey's oldest son, said he felt jurors did the best they could with the evidence they had.
They had heard testimony from three children in the blended Dickey family. They included Kirkland's younger brother, Dillon, who was then 17, and Lawrence Dickey's own children, Taylor, then 16, and Lawson, then 12.
The state built its case of premeditation around Lawson's testimony. He said his stepfather had told him moments before the attack that the boy's biological mother would take care of him in the future.
"Dickey was saying goodbye to his son," Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale told jurors in his closing argument.
Dickey himself testified this week that he remembered nothing. He said he consumed 11 beers and two shots of tequila at the concert, covering himself with mud and losing his shoes in the process. He said he couldn't remember talking to Dillon and then getting a bat from the garage and striking his wife three times in the head as she lay in bed. The blows were strong enough to fracture her skull and lacerate her brain.
When Dickey later turned himself in at a Plant City police substation, he was wearing only gym shorts. He told an officer, "Lock me up. I just beat my wife with a bat and she's hurt real bad."
Matt Kirkland is convinced Dickey remembers everything about that night. "He was able to fool them," Kirkland said. "I saw him drink every day and he never blacked out or forgot anything."
The couple had been married four years. Beatrice Dickey headed the Office of Business Affairs for the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Lawrence Dickey was a loss-prevention officer for Walmart.
Kirkland said Dickey had never struck his mother, but he was mentally abusive when he drank. The son said Dickey was jealous of his wife's success at the Sheriff's Office.
At the police substation that night, Dickey told officers, "(Polk County Sheriff) Grady Judd drove me to this."
Judd said Wednesday night he never knew Dickey, "except to shake his hand at Christmas parties. There's no way for me to understand the ramblings of an irrational, drunk madman."
He said he knew Beatrice Dickey as "a brilliant administrator. I hired her as a CPA and she went right to the top."
During closing arguments Wednesday, defense attorney Robert Fraser called the beating "a random act by a guy who probably was in the middle of a blackout."
The jury was told that drunkenness is not a legal defense for murder. But Fraser argued that none of Dickey's actions clearly showed premeditation.
"He does not deserve your pity," Fraser said. "He also doesn't deserve your rage." He told jurors to take "a few deep breaths" before deliberating.
Kirkland said he remains hopeful that Dickey will get a life sentence in January.
John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]