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Judge grants mistrial in McTear baby death case

TAMPA — Before she took the witness stand in the trial for the man accused of throwing her baby out a car window, Jasmine Bedwell was getting angry text messages from her current boyfriend, the baby’s father.

That may have rattled and confused Bedwell, a prosecutor theorized, possibly explaining her emotional testimony that derailed the murder trial of Richard A. McTear Jr., leading a judge to “reluctantly” declare a mistrial Tuesday and leaving the parties to figure out a date to start the whole process again.

Bedwell, a former foster child, was a key prosecution witness and a target of the defense, which had told jurors in opening statements that they would have to believe Bedwell to convict McTear.

In about 20 minutes on the witness stand Monday, Bedwell testified she met McTear in late 2008 when she was 17 and pregnant with Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr., whose father was in prison. Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale asked Bedwell about phone conversations she had with McTear on May 4, 2009, hours before the baby was found dead along the side of Interstate 275.

“He wanted to come over and I told him no,” Bedwell said. “He told me he was going to come over and shoot my baby in the face and piss on him and in his face, and he was going to kill both of us.”

That statement closely mirrored a statement Bedwell had previously said McTear made before an alleged assault in March 2009, a charge on which McTear had been cleared by another jury. But Gale and defense attorneys said Bedwell had never before said McTear made the specific threat about urination on May 4, 2009.

In pretrial proceedings last year, McTear’s defense attorneys asked Circuit Judge William Fuente to enter an order barring the prosecution from using that statement in the murder trial. Because the statement did not relate to the day of the slaying, prosecutors said they did not intend to introduce it, and Fuente granted the defense’s motion and barred the statement from being mentioned in the murder trial.

Gale told Fuente that when he asked Bedwell about the May 4, 2009, phone conversations, he had expected her to testify generally that McTear threatened to come over and hurt her and the baby. He said when he met with Bedwell to prepare for this trial, he didn’t specifically tell her not to testify about the urination threat because the incident in March wasn’t mentioned in their preparations.

Gale said he also learned after court recessed on Monday that Murray, who is Bedwell’s current boyfriend was in court watching the witnesses who took the stand before Bedwell. Murray was angry because Liddarius Moore, who was with Bedwell before the baby was killed, testified he and Bedwell had a two-year romantic relationship after the baby’s death.

Gale said just before Bedwell took the witness stand, Murray sent Bedwell text messages expressing his anger that she had another boyfriend, in addition to McTear, while he was in prison.

Gale said he thinks the text messages contributed to Bedwell’s emotional state. He told Fuente he thinks she confused the two threats.
Gale argued unsuccessfully that Fuente should not declare a mistrial, that if McTear had made the threats described by Bedwell, it would be admissible evidence. “Prior threats of the defendant toward the victim are relevant and admissible at trial,” he said.

But Fuente said Bedwell’s testimony destroyed McTear’s ability to get a fair trial. “The jury heard what they should not have heard,” Fuente concluded, granting a motion from Assistant Public Defender Michael Peacock that he declare a mistrial.

After Gale explained what he thought happened, Fuente said, “No judge, including this judge, would not tolerate a witness on the witness stand being influenced in any way, shape or form by anyone. This court certainly has the powers of contempt for that purpose.” But he didn’t issue any contempt citations. Instead, he assembled the 12 jurors and four alternates and dismissed them from service after telling them what happened. “I apologize to each and every one of you sincerely for consuming so much of your time,” he said. “We do appreciate what you’ve done.”

One of the jurors, Lori Reyes, an unemployed administrative assistant, told reporters she was frustrated by the mistrial but found her jury service to be “a good life experience.”

Reyes said she didn’t understand the problem with Bedwell’s testimony. “I believe, if that really was said, I don’t understand why she was not allowed to testify about it,” Reyes said.

She said if Fuente had allowed the trial to proceed, it would be difficult for her to put the testimony out of her mind and not consider it.

Hillsborough County Public Defender Julianne Holt said attorneys were “shocked and surprised” by Bedwell’s testimony. “We have to greatly respect a judge having the courage to do what he did here today,” she added.

Holt said she expects the next trial to take place either late this year or early next year.

In court, Gale said the trial disruption “is, of course, going to increase the media attention in this matter, and it’s going to make it more difficult to get a jury panel next time to try this case. And I think we’re going to need substantially more than 200 potential jurors to start out.”
It took the parties a full week to select a jury from a panel of 200 citizens for this trial.

Bedwell’s credibility was the subject of pretrial motions in the case; the prosecution asked Fuente to limit the defense’s ability to use evidence regarding her “reputation for truthfulness, reputation for violence and other inadmissible character evidence.”

In response to the prosecution motion, the defense wrote in court filings that Bedwell “has a well-known reputation in the community for both violence and dishonesty.”

According to the defense, Bedwell has made statements blaming the baby’s death on her uncle and that she claimed before the baby was killed that someone took him from her at a mall.

If convicted of murdering the infant, Mc­Tear could face a death sentence.

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Twitter: @ElaineTBO
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