TAMPA — "Be safe," her friend told her at the door.
Jasmine Bedwell was back in her apartment. She had fled eight hours earlier, afraid her ex-boyfriend Rico would make good on his telephone threats to kill her and her baby.
Now the 17-year-old thought the danger had passed.
Her friend carried 3-month-old Emanuel from the car and set the car seat by Jasmine's couch.
"Call me, call my mama, call any of us if you need us," he said before he left.
Jasmine went inside. She closed the door and locked it. She headed down the short hall toward her living room.
"I told you I would get you," Richard "Rico" McTear said.
He had been in the house, waiting around the corner for Jasmine, like trouble always did.
A mile west of Marbella Apartments, trucks rumbled over Interstate 275. The highway would soon be a crime scene. It was 2:15 a.m. on May 5, the last day of Emanuel's life.
For a few seconds longer, the baby slept in peace.
"I feel like I'm a child, but I've been through some things and seen some things that only an adult should have to go through and see." ——Jasmine Bedwell
Jasmine's earliest memories involve a brown belt named "Jimmie" and salt bath whippings. She remembers her mother being in and out of jail and her older sister trying to set fire to her grandmother's apartment. The now-deceased grandmother, Jimmie Kay Harberson, lived on Main Street in West Tampa.
Christina Ahrens, 26, grew up across the way. She saw the whippings, she said.
Jasmine ran away 28 times in six years, according to Department of Children and Families records provided by her attorney. Sometimes, Ahrens took her in, with the blessing of Jasmine's mother, Lillie Sue Bedwell.
On one such occasion, Jasmine, then 13, witnessed a murder, according to police records. She talks of wiping away the white foam that bubbled from the dead man's mouth, feeling alone, and blaming her mother for the misery.
"My mama would send me with people that would take me to the worst places," Jasmine said.
Child welfare workers removed Jasmine from her family when she was 1, 9 and 14, according to a DCF report. Seventeen times in her life, investigators checked into abuse and neglect complaints involving Jasmine and her family.
When she talks of her foster placements, she describes feeling happy and safe.
Asked how many places she has lived, she stares into space.
"Seven?" she said. "Eight?"
• • •
In June 2008, Jasmine told caseworkers she was pregnant. The father had a history of drug arrests.
Her foster mother in Wesley Chapel had already warned that if Jasmine got pregnant, she would have to leave. So she moved in and out of two more foster homes.
She talked about wanting her own place.
Jasmine's caseworkers at Hillsborough Kids Inc. knew she had anger management problems. The summer she got pregnant, she had clashed with another child in the Wesley Chapel home and been arrested. It was her eighth battery charge. She wound up on probation.
But in some ways, she seemed to be taking more responsibility for herself. For a time, she stopped running away.
They thought she should try independent living before the baby was born.
So, last December, caseworkers set her up at Marbella Apartments, a two-story complex of beige stucco buildings on 15th Street north of Fowler Avenue. There was even a pool. If she went to school and stuck with her case plan, the state would pay for rent, groceries and baby supplies.
"Everyone agreed that I would do well in an apartment by myself," Jasmine remembers. "And, so, me, I'm going to agree with it. Who wouldn't want their own apartment?"
Reporter: Do you feel like you know what a good man is?
Jasmine: I don't know. I don't know. I probably don't know because I thought Rico was.
She remembers the day she met Richard "Rico" McTear, walking along 15th Street.
Jasmine has smooth caramel skin and dark eyes. Her light brown hair fell in soft curls and her smile gleamed.
"You're the prettiest pregnant woman I've ever seen," she remembers McTear saying — though he had another woman with him, the mother of his own child.
Jasmine was six months pregnant by Emanuel Wesley Murray, a 21-year-old headed to prison on a weapons charge. McTear's compliment seemed to come out of nowhere.
Before she knew it, he was paying her electric bill.
Then, one day, a probation officer showed up at her apartment looking for him. "I didn't even know he was on probation until then," she said.
By then, he had been arrested 16 times. Age 13, larceny. Age 14, domestic violence. Women had accused him of stalking, dragging and beating them unconscious, of breaking into homes and threatening murder — in one case, murder of a child.
He was sweet to her, for a while. When she had a complication in her pregnancy, he stayed by her side in the hospital.
"The only time he left was when my caseworker took him to my house to get clothes for the baby and me," she said.
But when the baby finally came on Jan. 25, nearly two weeks early, she named him Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr., after his biological father.
Not long after, McTear started asking: When was she going to have his baby?
He acted like he was in competition with Murray, Jasmine said.
One baby was enough, she told him.
"He didn't want to understand. Then, I don't know, he just started going crazy."
"It's not that easy to leave somebody alone who you think is really there for you and really cares for you. And when I was trying to leave him alone, what was he doing to me? Coming back and beating me up." — Jasmine
The first beating, she got a black eye, she said. They had an argument, she said, and he kicked in the door, hit her once, and left. She didn't call police.
The second time, she was on a bus with Emanuel when McTear called and demanded some shoes he had left at her place. She got off the bus and walked more than a mile to meet him.
When he saw her, he chased her into her apartment and beat her. He poured Fabuloso cleaner in her hair and mouth and then sat calmly on the couch, she said. She ran to a neighbor's house. He followed and beat her again, she said. When police arrived, he was gone.
The third time, Jasmine filled out paperwork for a restraining order against McTear but missed a court hearing to follow up.
Through it all, others warned her about him.
He's going to kill you, his ex-girlfriend said.
Leave him, her sister said.
"I can't," Jasmine remembers saying.
Instead, she got a tattoo on her neck: "RICO."
"I said, 'I'll get the restraining order, but I want to know what a piece of paper is going to do when he comes to beat me up. I'm going to hold a piece of paper in his face and it's going to make him even madder.' " — Jasmine
When she tells the story of what happened to Emanuel, she is breathless, barely pausing between sentences.
It was about 6 p.m. on May 4. She and her neighbors were outside the apartments, passing the baby around. McTear kept calling. He wanted to come over. No, she said.
"Oh, what? You trying to get back with your baby daddy?" she remembers him saying. According to Jasmine, he said he would come over and kill them both.
She ran into the house, gathered a pair of boxers, a T-shirt, and clothes for Emanuel. She called her friend and asked him to pick her up. Meanwhile, McTear called again and again, filling her voice mail.
She fell asleep at her friend's house. She woke at 2 a.m., worried.
Emanuel needed his diaper bag packed for day care.
She had no clothes for school the next day. The state's financial support was tied to her attendance at school.
So Jasmine's friend dropped her and Emanuel back at her apartment.
"Be safe," he said.
• • •
McTear appeared in the hallway. This is what Jasmine remembers after that:
He punched and beat her and threw her on the couch.
He broke pictures of the baby.
He grabbed a soda and a jug of water. He stood, gulping the water all at once, then walked to Emanuel's car seat and poured the soda all over the sleeping infant's face.
Emanuel started to wail.
"Rico, stop! Rico stop!" she remembers crying.
McTear picked up Emanuel's car seat and threw it from the living room to the kitchen with the baby still inside, she said. Then, he threw it from the kitchen back to the living room, where Emanuel fell out, screaming.
McTear ordered Jasmine to shut the baby up.
"Get him," she remembers McTear yelling. "Make him shut up before I kill both of y'all. Don't make me go in the room and get my gun."
She bolted for the door. McTear came at her, grabbed the baby from her arms, pushed her away and ran outside, where he tossed Emanuel on the ground.
Emanuel's bottom hit concrete, she said, and his head hit grass.
Jasmine couldn't get to him in time.
She said McTear took off with her baby. She screamed and pounded on doors for help.
She grabbed a neighbor's phone and called 911, she said. She could barely speak, her mouth swollen from the beating.
In the minutes that followed, a television news videographer driving south along Interstate 275 near Fowler Avenue would make a gruesome discovery.
A 3-month-old baby, dead on the highway, flung from a car window.
"Sometimes I wish I could do things that normal kids do. Like, normal kids, they go outside to the park and they play with one another. But I never really got to do that." — Jasmine
On Aug. 13, Jasmine will turn 18.
McTear is expected in court that day for a hearing. He faces charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, burglary, kidnapping, felony battery, burglary with assault, false imprisonment and child abuse.
"I want him to die in a horrible way," she said.
She knows what people say about her. She reads the comments on the Internet. She thinks of herself as a good person and doesn't understand the criticism.
She now lives in a foster home again.
She sleeps with the light on and gets scared when taking a shower or going around corners. She's afraid someone might get her.
She was baptized a few weeks ago. She started going to church with one of McTear's former girlfriends, the one who warned her about him.
She's working on her high school equivalency diploma at Kimmins Family Learning Center, where she used to take the baby. She thinks about becoming a massage therapist, though she's never had a massage.
She has an attorney, W. Thomas Wadley of St. Petersburg. They've begun legal action against her apartment complex, the Sheriff's Office and two agencies they say should have protected her: Hillsborough Kids and the Department of Children and Families.
Jasmine's father, Mike Foster, has reconnected with her after being away most of her life and falling behind $41,000 in child support. Jasmine likes having her father around and getting to know him.
She and Murray, Emanuel's father, write letters to each other all the time. He quotes Scripture. She was seven weeks pregnant with his son when Murray went to jail, then prison. He's expected to be released in July 2011.
She plans to marry him in September. She hopes one day to have another child with him. He never met Emanuel, his first son.
Once, she told a caseworker that Murray had abused her, DCF records show.
Jasmine now says that's not true. She loves him, she said.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.