TAMPA — A jury rejected the death penalty Tuesday for Richard McTear Jr., who was convicted of murdering a 3-month-old boy by throwing him onto the side of an interstate.
Following jurors' recommendation, Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente sentenced McTear to spend the rest of his life in prison. He imposed a second life sentence for the charge of burglary with assault and a 30-year sentence for kidnapping.
It took the 12 jurors roughly two hours to decide whether McTear's crimes warranted the death penalty, as prosecutors had argued, or the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Though the jury's decision was advisory, law requires judges to give it "great weight" before sentencing defendants.
McTear received the judge's sentence impassively. For three weeks, he has shown no emotion while members of his family wept on the witness stand, and his ex-girlfriend Jasmine Bedwell, the mother of 3-month-old Emanuel Murray Jr., accused him of murder.
Addressing the courtroom before McTear was sentenced, Bedwell appeared satisfied, though years ago she told a reporter she hoped her son's murderer would "die in a horrible way."
"I waited and I waited for this day," she said, weeping as she spoke. "I'm just happy I have justice for my son."
Assistant Public Defender Mike Peacock, who represented McTear, issued a prepared statement proclaiming his client's innocence and criticizing news reports.
"For the last five years, Richard Anthony McTear Jr. has been tried in the court of public opinion," he wrote. "For the last three weeks he has been tried in a court of law."
McTear declined through his attorneys to address the court.
The same jurors who recommended life in prison found McTear, 26, guilty last week of first-degree murder in Emanuel's death. The infant died after he was tossed onto the side of Interstate 275 near Fowler Avenue on May 5, 2009. Jurors also convicted McTear of kidnapping, battery, burglary with assault, and aggravated child abuse.
Over the past two days, jurors have heard from prosecutors and defense attorneys about factors that, by law, they had to consider before recommending life or the death penalty. Prosecutors presented jurors with "aggravating circumstances," among them that the victim was an infant who couldn't defend himself, and that McTear had a prior felony conviction for physically attacking an ex-girlfriend.
Attorneys representing McTear gave jurors a list of 42 "mitigating circumstances" in his life. Among them was his history of physical abuse at the hands of his mother who, when he was 17 years old, stuck a knife in his neck and back after he refused to sell drugs to her. His father was addicted to crack cocaine and, after retiring from the military, sold drugs.
As a child, McTear was shuttled between his maternal and paternal grandmothers' houses. The former was a place of safety and structure, where attending church on Sundays was a must. His father's mother was an alcoholic who ran a bar out of her home and encouraged him to drink with her. When she wanted to keep the young McTear busy, she would sit him in front of pornographic films.
In a move that left trial observers scratching their heads, McTear's attorneys asked that jurors also consider the stress that his mother's "lifestyle" put on him as a child. The single sentence was an oblique reference to the fact that the defendant's mother, Jackline Patton, is a lesbian.
While questioning McTear's mother, Assistant Public Defender Theda James highlighted the fact that Patton was dressed "very masculine" — she wore a shirt and tie — and described her sexuality as "the lifestyle you chose for yourself." McTear was embarrassed by his mother's homosexuality, James said, suggesting it was part of his dysfunctional childhood.
James would not comment on her strategy after the trial, and Peacock wouldn't address it on the record.
"It's unusual," said Tampa criminal defense attorney Lyann Goudie, who was not involved in the case. "I would not expect that from an educated lawyer, who's a very good person, in a relatively cosmopolitan city."
Two psychologists retained by McTear's defense testified that as a result of the physical and sexual abuse he experienced, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis a psychologist hired by the prosecution dismissed.
"I'm certainly not going to stand up here and argue to you that Richard McTear didn't have a lousy childhood. He did," said Assistant State Attorney Ron Gale. But Gale said McTear could have chosen to live in a more loving environment with his maternal grandmother, who has visited him in jail nearly every day for the past five years. Instead, he chose the chaos of his father's family.
"Part of the reason for the life that he led was because of the choices he made," Gale said.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.