TAMPA — Convicted of murdering a baby by throwing him out a car window on the interstate, Richard McTear Jr. will find out next week if jurors want him put to death.
Jurors deliberated about seven hours Thursday before convicting McTear, 26, of first-degree murder and four other felonies: burglary with assault and battery, aggravated child abuse, battery and kidnapping.
The baby’s mother, Jasmine Bedwell, wept after the verdict was announced and tightly embraced the baby’s father, Emanuel Wesley Murray Sr., in the courthouse hallway.
Neither Bedwell nor Murray spoke to reporters. But Murray’s uncle, Ike Thompson, said he wanted to thank the jury. Asked what they should do next, he said, “Burn him.”
Jurors are scheduled to return to court Monday to begin hearing evidence over whether to recommend that Circuit Judge William Fuente sentence McTear to death.
Jurors deliberated all day Thursday, reaching a verdict just after 5 p.m. in the case of the death of Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr., who was found dead on the side of the highway on May 5, 2009, when he was not yet 4 months old.
The prosecution said McTear attacked Bedwell, the baby’s mother, in a jealous rage, beat her and assaulted the baby. When Bedwell fled to a neighbor’s apartment to call 911, the prosecution said, McTear drove off with the baby and killed him by throwing him out the window of a car he had taken from his cousin.
The defense maintained McTear’s innocence, asserting that Bedwell was lying. Defense lawyers argued that if jurors couldn’t believe Bedwell, they could not convict the defendant.
In his summation to the jury, defense attorney Michael Peacock even suggested Bedwell or her friend, Liderrius Moore, might have killed the baby.
But Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale said the evidence was overwhelming that Bedwell was telling the truth. Among the evidence presented to jurors was Bedwell’s and the baby’s DNA in apparent blood stains on the shorts McTear was wearing when he was arrested.
When McTear was being escorted into the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, he was asked by reporters why he threw a baby out a car window. His notorious response: “It’s a dirty game.”
This, Gale argued, showed McTear knew exactly what he had done.
Fuente plans to convene a hearing Friday morning to discuss procedures for the penalty phase, which he tentatively scheduled to start on Monday.
During the penalty phase, the prosecution will present evidence of aggravating factors, or information about the crime and the defendant that weigh in favor of a death sentence. The defense will present testimony to support mitigating factors, or information that favors a sentence of life in prison.
The prosecution also plans to present victim impact statements from Bedwell and Emanuel Wesley Murray Sr., who was in prison on weapons charges when his son was born and died. Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale told Fuente the infant’s parents are preparing written statements that will be read by someone else during the hearing.
Although victims have the right to make such statements, jurors are told they cannot consider them in deciding whether to recommend a death sentence.
Among the aggravating factors the prosecution plans to present are that McTear was on felony probation at the time of the murder and that he has a prior conviction for a violent felony, battery. The prosecution also plans to argue as aggravating factors the age of the victim and that the murder was committed in the course of a felony.
The defense plans to assert McTear had mental health issues and likely will present information about his upbringing.
The defense might also argue that McTear has had a relatively good discipline record while in jail. The defense previously notified the court that it had furnished the prosecution with a report describing a 2011 incident in which McTear became upset during a strip search but ultimately complied.
Fuente gave jurors legal instructions Thursday morning, before allowing them to deliberate. The deliberations were delayed when Fuente and attorneys noticed typographical errors in the legal instructions. For example, the word “detention” was written instead of “detection” in one place. Jurors were given copies of the legal instructions, and the copies had to be fixed before deliberations could begin.
The jury’s task was complex, not only because of the number of charges and the amount of evidence in the case, but also because the law under which they are to reach their murder verdict is complicated.
There were two different theories under which they could convict of first-degree murder: by finding the murder was premeditated or that it was a felony murder, which means the killing happened in the course of aggravated child abuse or kidnapping.
Jurors found McTear guilty because the murder was committed in the course of the other felonies. They did not find the murder was premeditated.