TAMPA — More than five years after little Emanuel Murray was found dead on the side of Interstate 275, jury selection began Monday for the man accused of murdering the baby.
The courts have not had an easy time arriving at justice for Richard McTear, who has become notorious not only for the horror of the crime, but also because of his statement to news photographers after his arrest: “It's a dirty game.”
Even five years after the fact, half of a pool of 200 potential jurors remembered reading and hearing about the case that's left an indelible impact on the city.
This marks the second attempt at a murder trial for McTear in the death of his former girlfriend's 3-month-old son. Authorities say McTear, now 26, beat the baby's mother, Jasmine Bedwell, and then took the infant, drove away and threw him on the highway.
If McTear is convicted of first-degree murder, the prosecution plans to seek a death sentence.
The first murder trial ended in a mistrial last August because Circuit Judge William Fuente ruled Bedwell's testimony at the first trial ruined McTear's chances of being judged fairly.
That time, jury selection took a week, and Fuente expects jury selection to last at least that long this time.
Potential jurors groaned audibly Monday when the judge told the panel he expects the trial will last four weeks. But the judge said he won't hear hardship excuses until after he finishes asking about jurors' knowledge of the case.
After that, potential jurors will be quizzed about their view on the death penalty and other areas, such as their prior experience serving on juries and whether they have been crime victims.
On Monday, Fuente and the lawyers began individually questioning those jury candidates who said they had heard about the case before. Knowing information about a case doesn't disqualify potential jurors from service. Only those who say they've made up their mind or couldn't judge based on evidence alone are removed from the pool.
On Monday, a little more than half of potential McTear jurors said they couldn't be fair. They were excused from service.
Among those dismissed was a woman who said, “All I remember is how horrible it would be to throw a kid out a window.”
And then there was the man who said what he heard was “kind of horrifying to me. I saw they said a guy tossed a baby out the window and his exact words were like, 'It's a dirty game' when they arrested him.”
Asked if he could be fair, the man said, “From what I saw, I would have to say he convicted himself, the way he acted.”
Still another man said he “cringed” when he came to court and realized what case he was called to judge. He said he couldn't be fair.
“From what I've seen,” he said, “this is pretty cut and dry. I don't know how they're going to defend against it.”
He, too was dismissed.
But a woman who said the case affected her particularly remained in the pool of potential jurors when she said she could be fair. The woman said that when the baby was killed, she was pregnant, a month before delivering her own son.
“I actually cried when I heard the story,” she said.
But she said she was emotional at the time because she was pregnant. Now, she said, she could be fair. She remained in the jury pool.
The last trial ended after Bedwell, a former foster child and key prosecution witness, had testified for only about 20 minutes.
Bedwell said 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.
“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, it was 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 in 2012, McTear's defense attorneys asked 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.
Fuente concluded Bedwell's testimony destroyed McTear's ability to get a fair trial in his murder case and he declared a mistrial.
On Monday, the parties began the process of starting again.