TAMPA — Richard McTear Jr. will spend the rest of his life in prison but won’t face the death chamber for murdering an infant by throwing him out a car window on Interstate 275 five years ago.
Notorious for his statement to reporters after his arrest – “It’s a dirty game” – McTear had nothing to say through his entire trial or to the jury that on Tuesday recommended he be spared the death penalty.
McTear’s lawyers described him during the two-day sentencing hearing as a monster created by a horrific, violent childhood, who nonetheless can make a positive contribution in prison through his religious training.
The baby’s mother, Jasmine Bedwell, whom McTear beat in a jealous rage, tearfully told Circuit Judge William Fuente after the jury’s verdict, “I’m just happy to have justice for my son.”
Immediately after Bedwell addressed the court, Fuente sentenced McTear to two life sentences and two 30-year sentences, all to be served concurrently on charges of first-degree murder, burglary with violence, first-degree child abuse and kidnapping.
McTear’s grandmother, Willie Patton, was in court for the verdict, but left without speaking to reporters.
Jurors, who deliberated two hours before reaching their sentencing recommendation, likewise declined to comment to reporters.
Defense lawyer Michael Peacock wouldn’t answer questions but did say the defense team has not yet decided whether to appeal McTear’s conviction last week in the murder of Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr., who was not yet 4 months old when his life came to a brutal end on the side of the highway in the dark, early morning hours of May 5, 2009.
The sentencing recommendation was made by same jury that convicted McTear after hearing evidence of the baby’s brutal death and how the infant was found on the road covered in road rash and covered with ants.
According to evidence in the trial, McTear met Bedwell when she was pregnant and was present for the birth of the baby. He lived with Bedwell, a 17-year-old foster child, until social workers said he had to leave the apartment she had as part of an independent living program.
The night of the murder, Bedwell was attacked when she returned from spending time at the home of a male friend. She said McTear beat her after her friend dropped off her and the baby, choking and biting her, demanding to know who the friend was.
McTear threw the baby in his car carrier across the apartment, then fled with the infant as Bedwell ran to a neighbor’s apartment to call 911.
The defense argued during the first phase of the trial that Bedwell was a liar and that jurors should not convict McTear on her word. But the prosecution presented a mountain of supporting evidence, including DNA from Bedwell and the baby in apparent blood stains on McTear’s shorts when he was arrested within hours of the baby’s discovery on the highway.
This was McTear’s second trial in the baby’s death. A trial last year ended in a mistrial when Bedwell made statements that had been ruled inadmissible.
The prosecution argued for a death sentence on four grounds: that the victim was under 12, that the murder was committed in the course of or flight from a burglary, that McTear was on felony probation at the time of the murder and that he had been convicted of a prior felony, a battery of another former girlfriend about a year before the murder.
Assistant State Attorney Ron Gale told jurors that Emanuel was among the “most vulnerable and helpless in society.” He “was incapable of uttering even a word in protest.”
Gale conceded that McTear had a “lousy childhood” but argued he had chances along the way from his grandmother and people in his church. McTear chose, the prosecutor said, to take the wrong path.
“Part of the reason for the life he led is the choices he made,” Gale told jurors.
In a defense infused with religious overtones, public defender Theda James argued 42 mitigating circumstances, or facts about McTear the lawyer said weighed in favor of a sentence of life behind bars without parole instead of the death sentence.
And just as the prosecution argued the age of the victim was an aggravating factor, the defense argued the fact McTear was 21 when he killed the infant was a mitigating circumstance because he was “too young to appreciate the consequences of his actions” and his brain was not fully developed.
“Don’t throw him away because he’s damaged,” James said in her closing argument to the jury.
James pleaded for mercy, saying McTear had no choice about how he grew up. “He was a boy who was grown into a monster,” she said.
“Emanuel Murray had no control over what happened to him on May 5, 2009, but neither did Richard McTear,” James said. “We should leave vengeance to the Lord. It doesn’t belong in this courtroom.”
James’ appeals to Christian principles and references to God drew repeated objections from Gale.
McTear’s visibly shaken mother took the witness stand Tuesday morning, admitting she abused and rejected her son and even stabbed him once when he refused to give her drugs. After she stabbed her son, Jackline Patton said, she called police and reported he had attacked her “because I was so angry and all I wanted to do was get high.”
She said she kicked her son out once when he was on crutches and had a cast on his leg because he stood up to her, even though he had no place to go.
“I couldn’t give him guidance,” Patton said, “at least not in a positive way. The only thing I was able to do was show him the wrong way.”
The emotional Patton said she was an addict who didn’t mother her son. “I didn’t care about myself,” she said. “How could I care about him?”
Jurors also heard testimony that McTear’s maternal grandmother, Willie Patton, took him in when her daughter wasn’t serving one of her five prison terms. Willie Patton said her grandson sometimes also spent time with his maternal grandmother, who she said introduced him to crime and drugs.
A defense expert said one of McTear’s grandmothers would play pornographic videos for him when she wanted to keep him away from her. He also was subject to sexual abuse from a cousin and aunt, according to defense testimony.
Willie Patton said she instilled religion in her grandson. “You have to go to church if you stay with me,” she said. “It’s important. You have to go and seek the Lord.”
Jackline Patton is a lesbian who dressed in masculine clothes, a fact that embarrassed her son and met with disapproval from her mother, witnesses testified.
His mother’s lifestyle “affected his life very bad,” Willie Patton said, “because he didn’t agree with it. I don’t agree with it, either.”
Pastor Jesse Washington testified McTear came to his Heartsong church in 2006 and 2007. He immersed himself in deep-level religious studies and made changes in his life when they conflicted with biblical teachings, Washington said. For example, when McTear heard that the Bible forbid cohabitation and sex outside of marriage, he moved out of his mother’s home and into the home of a church deacon.
McTear “always had this big Bible and it would be marked up really intensely with tons and tons of notes,” Washington said. But he stopped going to church when his mother’s girlfriend gave him a car.
Another minister, the Rev. Joe Johnson, said he began visiting McTear in jail as part of the “Pastors on Patrol” program. Johnson said he’s seen the defendant every week for five years, and they have deep discussions about the Bible and improving their lives.
McTear, he said, has become a positive influence on other inmates. “He’s genuine, sincere about his walk with the Lord,” Johnson said. “I can count his prayers as one of the righteous… He’s been redeemed.”
The defense argued that McTear’s stress over his mother’s “lifestyle” should be considered as a mitigating factor, weighing in favor of a life sentence.
By the age of 14, McTear had fathered two children. Asked how many children he has, Jackline Patton said, “Biologically, he has three. Through love, he has six.” She said he’s good with children.
When Emanuel Murray Jr. was born, she said, her the defendant called her and told her she had another grandson. “He was so happy he had another son…He told me that he actually cut the umbilical cord.”
Although the defense presented expert testimony that McTear suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, the prosecution presented a psychiatrist who testified McTear isn’t mentally ill but is violent and aggressive when he feels betrayed by women.