Richard McTear Jr. took the stand to blame his ex-girlfriend for igniting the altercation that led to his trial on battery charges.
The strategy worked.
A Hillsborough County jury deliberated for about 21/2 hours Wednesday before acquitting McTear of attacking his ex-girlfriend, Jasmine Bedwell, and her neighbor in March.
McTear, 22, had faced up to five years in prison on each of the two counts of battery.
The acquittal could prove to be a hollow victory for McTear.
He still faces a potential death sentence on charges he killed Bedwell's 3-month-old son, Emanuel Wesley Murray, in May. McTear is being held without bail in that case.
He also faces battery and burglary charges stemming from another incident involving Bedwell and the same neighbor, Elyanna Gonzalez.
Prosecutors are trying to revoke probation he received in 2008 after pleading guilty to attacking another girlfriend.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors had no comment on McTear's acquittal.
In closing arguments, defense attorneys pounded on the conflicting testimony of prosecution witnesses.
"There are too many stories to make sense," said Michael Peacock, an assistant public defender.
Bedwell wasn't in the courtroom when the not-guilty verdicts were read. Prosecutors huddled with the teenager afterward in an anteroom off the courtroom.
Bedwell left crying, her face covered with a handkerchief. She was led out through a back door to avoid the media.
McTear testified he only wanted to retrieve his clothes when he went to Bedwell's apartment March 31. Bedwell blocked the bedroom door and pushed him, he said, because she knew that if he collected his possessions it meant their relationship was over.
"I pushed her to get around her, and she fell to the ground," McTear testified. "She got up howling and screaming."
He said he slapped Gonzalez's phone out of her hand as he left Bedwell's apartment because he was afraid neighbors would call police and his probation would be revoked.
Bedwell took the stand again after McTear's testimony to deny ever touching him. She had testified Tuesday that he pushed her into her apartment and began slugging and kicking her.
Her version conflicted with Gonzalez's testimony; each woman said she was attacked first by McTear. Both versions varied from those provided by another neighbor and McTear's aunt, who drove him to the apartment complex.
Bedwell testified McTear began getting jealous after she received a Valentine's Day card from her baby's father. She said she threw McTear out of her apartment, where he had been living.
Assistant State Attorney Felix Vega told jurors McTear was acting out of some macho need for respect.
"This case is completely about control," he said in his closing statement. "Mr. McTear's only intent for going to that apartment was to inflict fear and terror on those women."
Authorities say the confrontation between McTear and Bedwell was yet another in a rocky relationship that culminated in the death of her son.
McTear also testified that Bedwell initiated a fight March 18, hitting him on the back with a bottle of household cleaner as he tried to leave the apartment.
He said he got mad, picked up the bottle and started pouring its contents on Bedwell.
"It might sound trivial to you," he said, "but I have this thing about people attacking me from behind."
He said he chased Bedwell into Gonzalez's apartment and grabbed her hair.
"I was very upset," he said.
McTear's battery trial in the March 18 case was continued this week.
He also is awaiting trial in the May 5 slaying of Emanuel. Authorities say McTear forced his way into Bedwell's apartment, beat her and threw a baby carrier, causing Emanuel to fall to the concrete floor. They say he then drove off with the child, throwing Emanuel from a moving car and onto the shoulder of Interstate 275.
McTear has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers claim there is no evidence tying him to any car on the day of the baby's death.