TAMPA — To Richard McTear's defense team, the evidence against him is so riddled with holes and built on the testimony of a liar that it's a mystery exactly what happened to the infant found dead on the side of Interstate 275 five years ago.
“This case may be about an innocent baby who never had a chance, but that is not a reason to exact misplaced vengeance on an innocent person,” defense lawyer Michael Peacock told jurors Wednesday in his closing arguments for McTear's murder trial.
“Is it sad that there's a dead baby?” Peacock asked. “Yes. But it is more sad that we don't know what happened to him.”
But to the prosecution, though there may be some minor inconsistencies in the evidence, there is no doubt that McTear attacked Jasmine Bedwell in a jealous rage. Prosecutors say the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that McTear drove off with infant Emanuel Wesley Murray Jr., then threw him out of the car on the highway around 3 a.m. on May 5, 2009.
Jurors began deliberations this morning after receiving legal instructions from Circuit Judge William Fuente, who gave them information about the charges, including first-degree murder, kidnapping and child abuse.
If the jury convicts McTear of first-degree murder, jurors will hear evidence in a second phase of the trial focusing on whether they should recommend a death sentence.
Bedwell was a 17-year-old foster child living with her newborn baby in an independent living program the night of the attack.
She testified that McTear had lived with her before but that she asked him to move out because social workers told her he couldn't stay.
The day leading up to the attack, she said, McTear called her repeatedly and made threats. So she went to a friend's house and watched some movies and fell asleep. She woke up realizing she had to be in school the next day, and the friend and his mother took her back to her apartment.
After they dropped her off, she said, McTear emerged from her bedroom and began attacking her, demanding to know who had taken her home. She said McTear beat, choked and bit her, using his hand to scrape the inside of her mouth. He poured a soda over the baby and then became more enraged when the infant cried, and threw him in his car carrier across the room, she testified.
When she tried to escape with the baby, they struggled and the baby fell, Bedwell said. She ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.
Jurors heard the emotional 911 call as part of the prosecution's closing argument Wednesday morning.
In addition to Bedwell's testimony, the evidence, Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale said Wednesday, is just too strong to be coincidental:
A car owned by McTear's cousin, which McTear had previously driven, was found early that morning with a hot engine. The baby's DNA was found in an apparent blood smear on the console. More than 300 phone calls were made to Bedwell's phone from phones owned by two people McTear knew in the hours leading up to the attack.
Bedwell said McTear took her phone during the attack, and when witnesses called the number after, a male answered. The mother of McTear's child testified she recognized McTear's voice answering Bedwell's phone.
Both the prosecution and defense experts could not rule out McTear as the person who made at least three bite marks on Bedwell's body, Gale noted.
The baby's and Bedwell's DNA were found in apparent blood stains on McTear's shorts when he was arrested after being found by police hiding under a car. Bedwell's DNA was found in debris taken from McTear's fingernails.
When confronted by reporters immediately after his arrest, McTear was asked why he threw a baby out a car window. “It's a dirty game,” he responded.
There was, Gale said, “no shock, no surprise” at the question. “He knows what he did.”
“You have to ask yourself,” the prosecutor told jurors, “are all these things just coincidences? At what point, does this series, string of circumstances, stop being coincidences? Is Mr. McTear that unlucky? The evidence is what it is because he's guilty.”
But Peacock said the prosecution's case depended on Bedwell's credibility. If jurors can't believe Bedwell, he said repeatedly, they can't convict McTear.
“There has not been one scintilla of evidence to support the allegation” that McTear threw the baby out of the car, Peacock said. “There's no evidence at all as to how the baby got to the side of the road.”
The defense lawyer suggested Bedwell or her male friend, Liderrius Moore, whom Bedwell had visited that night, may have had something to do with what happened to the baby. Peacock noted that Moore was left alone with the baby when Bedwell went home to get food for him at one point.
“The reality is the baby was left alone with Liderrius Moore, not Mr. McTear, before he was found alongside the road with no clear explanation of how he got there,” Peacock said.
Phone records, Peacock said, show a series of calls between Bedwell and Moore when they supposedly were together that night.
Bedwell, he said, is “obviously a potential suspect with regards to what happened. She had access to the baby.”
Peacock also tore into the investigation, hammering law enforcement for not processing evidence, including a soda can found at Bedwell's apartment. Bedwell said that during the attack, McTear poured a can of soda on the baby.
“What surfaces could have been processed for fingerprint” or DNA evidence, Peacock asked. “How about the bag of diapers on the kitchen counter? Was it processed?”
“It's not that nice, neat package that the prosecution suggests,” the defense lawyer said.
“It's just not supported by the evidence.”
Peacock told jurors the prosecution has to prove every element of every charge against McTear “beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.” They can't just decide they think McTear might have done it or even that he's probably guilty.
“If you ignore the law,” he said, “your verdict would be a miscarriage of justice.”