Anna M. Phillips, Times Staff Writer

Anna M. Phillips

Anna M. Phillips writes about legal affairs and criminal justice in Tampa and Hillsborough County. Before joining the Times in 2012, she covered the New York City public schools for the New York Times and for the education news website Chalkbeat New York (formerly GothamSchools).

Phone: (813) 226-3354


Twitter: @annamphillips

  1. McTear guilty of throwing baby to his death on I-275


    TAMPA — A jury convicted Richard McTear Jr. on Thursday of savagely beating his ex-girlfriend and throwing her baby to its death on the side of Interstate 275 five years ago.

    Outside the courtroom, surrounded by a phalanx of friends and relatives, the baby's mother and father held each other in a long embrace. Jasmine Bedwell, 22, a foster child when her baby was conceived, wept on the shoulder of Emanuel Murray Sr., who was in prison on gun charges when his son died. Though neither parent would speak to reporters, the baby's great-uncle, Ike Thompson, offered jurors his thanks and gave them a piece of advice. ...

    Richard McTear Jr., 26, shows no expression as the verdict is read Thursday. He was found guilty on all charges in the death of his ex-girlfriend’s baby son during a rampage.
  2. Both sides in McTear case give closing arguments


    TAMPA — As he began his closing arguments to jurors Wednesday in the murder trial of Richard McTear Jr., a state prosecutor played a recording of the 911 call made by McTear's ex-girlfriend.

    Her shrieks and cries of "He took my baby" from five years ago filled the courtroom.

    That is not the voice of a woman scheming to falsely accuse McTear, 26, of murdering her infant son, argued prosecutor Ron Gale....

    In his closing argument, defense attorney Michael Peacock returned repeatedly to the legal standard of “reasonable doubt.”
  3. Defense takes aim at veracity of baby's mother in McTear murder trial


    TAMPA — Jasmine Bedwell says she knows that Richard McTear Jr. killed her infant son five years ago, when she was a teenager living under the watch of Hillsborough County's foster care agency. But that's not what a former caseworker remembers her saying at the time.

    Attorneys representing McTear, 26, worked to dismantle Bedwell's version of events Tuesday, calling on her former placement specialist with Camelot Community Care, a contract foster care agency. Keshia Coffie told jurors that Bedwell called her from the hospital on May 5, 2009, the day her son was killed. She was crying hysterically and screaming into the phone....

    Former caseworker Keshia Coffie recalled Jasmine Bedwell saying, “My uncle beat me up and killed my baby.”
  4. Prosecution rests in trial of man accused of throwing a baby onto I-275


    TAMPA — The prosecution rested its case Monday in the capital murder trial of Richard McTear Jr., concluding with DNA evidence linking McTear to his ex-girlfriend's baby, who was found dead on the side of Interstate 275.

    Holding up clothing taken from McTear after his arrest, a crime lab analyst explained to jurors how she matched the baby's DNA to blood stains on her alleged killer's jean shorts. Blood found on the console of the car he is alleged to have driven contained the baby's DNA as well, said Florida Department of Law Enforcement analyst Carol Greenwell....

    Richard McTear Jr., 26, left, is accused of throwing a 3-month-old boy onto Interstate 275.
  5. Baby found on I-275 suffered extreme trauma, medical examiner says


    TAMPA — In her 20 years as a medical examiner, Dr. Laura Hair has seen fractures at the base of victims' skulls in only the most severe circumstances. She's found them in people who died in airplane crashes, in falls from multistory buildings, and in horrific car accidents. She's seen them in people who jumped to their death from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

    She's never seen them in a baby dropped from a standing position....

    Dr. Laura Hair with the Hillsborough County Medial Examiners Office listens to a question by Public Defender Theda James  about 3-month-old Emanuel Murray during the first-degree murder trial of Richard McTear, Jr. on Friday 7/25/14 McTear, who is now 26, is charged in the death of 3-month-old Emanuel Murray. The baby was found dead in May 2009, along Interstate 275 near Fowler Avenue. Police say McTear threw the baby from a car window.McTear argued with the child's mother, Jasmine Bedwell, earlier that morning, investigators said. During the argument, he allegedly threw the child to the ground, then grabbed the infant and drove off with him.
  6. 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....

    This file photo shows Jasmine Bedwell on the witness stand during Richard McTear's first trial last August.  Bedwell made statements that had been previously been ruled as inadmissible, prompting a mistrial.
  7. Defense seeks to undermine key witness in Hillsborough baby killing case


    TAMPA — "It's a dirty game" was Richard McTear Jr.'s motto. He had the phrase tattooed on his forearm, and he repeated it to reporters after his arrest five years ago on charges that he murdered his ex-girlfriend's baby and threw the infant onto the side of the interstate.

    On Tuesday, the opening day of his trial, McTear's defense attorney Mike Peacock took those words and pointed them at the jury....

    Richard McTear, in court Tuesday, is accused of killing a baby found on Interstate 275 in Tampa in 2009.
  8. In Hillsborough judge's race, legendary lawyer's son squares off against appointed incumbent


    TAMPA — Known in Hillsborough County courtrooms for the fear he instilled in veteran lawyers, Norman Cannella Sr. became a legend in Tampa without ever holding elected office.

    But Norman Cannella Jr. has other plans. The 46-year-old son of one of Tampa's most prominent criminal defense attorneys is running for a Hillsborough County judgeship, challenging a little-known incumbent who's been on the bench for less than a year....

    Norman S. Cannella Jr. is a criminal defense attorney.
  9. Tampa attorney seeks to depose prominent Hillsborough judge about involvement in case


    TAMPA — In a highly unorthodox move, a Tampa defense attorney in an attempted murder case is trying to depose a Hillsborough Circuit judge whose actions after the defendant's arrest have raised questions about whether he violated established procedure.

    On Thursday, a Hillsborough judge heard from attorney Mark J. O'Brien, who is representing Matthew Buendia, a former Marine who shot a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy in the fall of 2011. Nearly three years after Buendia's arrest, O'Brien contends that Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe and officials with the Hillsborough state attorney's and sheriff's offices worked together to improperly revoke Buendia's bail. If successful, O'Brien's actions could force the spectacle of a veteran jurist made to give out-of-court testimony about his role in the case....

    Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe’s role is being questioned.
  10. Jury pool narrowed to 135 as trial begins for man accused of tossing baby from car


    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....

    Attorney Rocky Brancato fastens a tie for Richard McTear Jr. on Monday, the first day of jury selection in McTear’s murder trial. McTear’s first trial ended in a mistrial in August after testimony from the baby’s mother, Jasmine Bedwell.
  11. Jury selection starts in murder trial of accused baby killer


    TAMPA — Jury selection will begin Monday in the state's second attempt to convict Richard McTear Jr. of killing his girlfriend's 3-month-old son and tossing him from a car window onto the highway.

    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....

    Richard McTear stands as he is introduced to the pool of prospective jurors in McTear's murder case Monday, July 14, 2014 in Tampa. Monday marked the first day of jury selection for the man accused of murdering a baby by throwing him out of a car window in 2009. McTear's first trial ended in a mistrial in last August after testimony from the babyÕs mother, Jasmine Bedwell.
  12. Tampa father found competent for trial in Cuba kidnapping case


    TAMPA — Joshua Hakken, the Tampa engineer who, along with his wife, is accused of kidnapping their children and fleeing to Cuba, is competent to stand trial, defense attorneys and prosecutors agreed on Thursday.

    That conclusion comes after more than a year of debate about Hakken's mental state. Arrested in April 2013, Hakken told his attorneys that after a court terminated his and his wife's parental rights, he decided that the U.S. government had put their two young sons in danger. Operating on antigovernment paranoia, the couple took their 2- and 4-year-old boys and the family dog on a voyage of more than 300 miles to Cuba to seek asylum....

    A recent psychiatric evaluation of Joshua Hakken had a different result than a year ago.
  13. Subject of 'The Unwinding,' homeless family lives in a car

    Human Interest


    It's dark by the time Danny Hartzell pulls his aging Chevy Cavalier into the Walmart parking lot where his family often spends the night.

    On this evening in late June, he parks the car and kills the engine, signaling bedtime. No one sleeps much on these tropical nights, but they arrange themselves as if they might, the Hartzells' two teenage children leaning on pillows they've piled between them. From the passenger seat, their mother watches for police cruisers and Walmart employees and anyone else on her growing list of likely saboteurs....

    Brent Hartzell, 18, and his sister, Danielle, 14, play around while standing next to the family’s car.
  14. SOCom leader McRaven, credited with planning Osama bin Laden raid, retiring


    TAMPA — Adm. William H. McRaven, widely credited with planning and launching the mission that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 shortly before ascending to oversee all special operation forces from Tampa, will retire from the military, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command said Monday.

    For nearly three years, McRaven has led SOCom, the elite organization that oversees special operations around the world from its headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. But his retirement has been expected....

    Adm. William McRaven was named head of SOCom after the bin Laden raid.
  15. Police killer Dontae Morris denied new trial


    TAMPA — Convicted of killing two Tampa police officers and sentenced to death, Dontae Morris will not get a new trial, a Hillsborough County circuit judge ruled Tuesday.

    In a six-page decision, Judge William Fuente said the evidence against Morris was too great to merit another trial.

    "After reviewing and reweighing the evidence presented during trial, the Court finds there was overwhelming evidence, including a dash-cam video of the shootings, to support the guilty verdicts," Fuente wrote....