TAMPA — Attorneys for Richard A. McTear Jr. rested their defense Tuesday after presenting testimony designed to raise questions about Jasmine Bedwell, the mother of the baby McTear is accused of murdering by throwing him out a car window on Interstate 275.
The defense says the prosecution case depends solely on the testimony of Bedwell, who they portrayed as a known liar who had threatened to harm herself and her baby and had made up stories about the baby being abducted.
Although McTear did not take the stand, his father was called as a witness for the defense.
Richard McTear Sr. testified that he loaned his son his phone a couple of months before the baby was killed. After his son returned the phone, McTear Sr. said, he received numerous calls and texts from Bedwell.
“I heard threats,” McTear Sr. said. “She was talking like she would harm herself or harm the baby.”
McTear Sr. said he asked about the calls and his son said Bedwell was “just tripping” and that he could handle her.
On cross-examination, McTear Sr. agreed he didn’t alert the authorities to any threat, saying he thought his son could handle the situation. McTear Sr. agreed he’d been told the text messages couldn’t be found.
The prosecution suggested McTear Sr. waited six months to tell anyone about the text messages because the phone company can’t retrieve them after that. He said no one asked for them before and when police were questioning him during the manhunt, his main concern was for his son’s safety.
“I was begging them, ‘Please don’t kill my son,’’’ McTear Sr. said.
The heightened emotions immediately after the baby died was also the subject of testimony from Keshia Coffie, a former social worker for Camelot Community Care, which was supervising Bedwell in foster care at the time of the killing. Coffie said she talked to Bedwell the morning after the baby was killed. “My baby dead! My baby dead!” the hysterical Bedwell told her, she said. “My uncle beat me up and killed my baby!”
Bedwell has denied saying her uncle killed the baby, saying she doesn’t have an uncle and doesn’t refer to anyone as an uncle.
On cross examination from the prosecution, Coffie said she may have told a detective she wasn’t sure if Bedwell said “uncle” because her memory isn’t clear.
The day before the killing, Thomas Scaglione II saw Bedwell in school where she was studying for her general equivalency diploma. Scaglione testified he heard Bedwell on the phone yelling at someone, “Give me back my baby, mother f----r.”
Scaglione said he asked Bedwell what happened, and she told him someone took her baby from her at the mall. Another student took Bedwell for a walk, and when they returned, Scaglione said, he again asked about the baby, and Bedwell told him she had lied.
After this testimony, jurors were sent from the courtroom, and lawyers tangled over this testimony. Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale said the defense had “opened the door” to information needed to put the incident in context, including that Scaglione thought Bedwell had been talking to McTear on the phone and that McTear had taken the baby to keep her from going to court to get an injunction against him.
This is the second murder trial for McTear. The first one ended in a mistrial last year because Bedwell testified about a prior incident of domestic violence. The judge and lawyers have scrupulously taken pains to make sure witnesses avoided references to prior domestic violence between Bedwell and McTear, who has been acquitted of another assault charge involving Bedwell.
“Things need to be put in proper context, which is extremely damaging to Mr. McTear,” Circuit Judge William Fuente said, struggling over what to do. “My gut instinct is we should end this as quickly as possible.”
Although Gale first argued that all of Scaglione’s testimony should be stricken from the record, he suggested he be allowed to question the teacher about Bedwell telling him her boyfriend took the baby because he didn’t want her to go to court. Gale was also allowed to elicit from Scaglione that Bedwell had previously asked for advice about her apartment lease because her boyfriend kept breaking in.
The defense elicited from Scaglione that Bedwell had said to him, “I lied, Mr. Tom. That’s what I do.”
The defense also presented a dental expert to counter testimony from a prosecution expert who had testified that the defendant was likely responsible for five bite marks on Bedwell’s body.
The defense expert, Thomas J. David, testified that only three of the marks were bite marks, and that while he couldn’t rule McTear out as the biter, there wasn’t enough evidence to say one way or the other.