Courts

Trial begins for man in slaying of South Miami commissioner father

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Harboring a long-standing “intense hatred” for his father, Jason Beckman methodically planned his murder, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

And when his father, a South Miami city commissioner, hopped in the shower in April 2009, the 17-year-old carefully assembled a 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun and walked into the bathroom.

“He aimed it directly at his father’s head,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Jessica Dobbins told jurors. “Then, he pulled the trigger, firing at such a close range he practically blew his fathers’ face off.”

Miami-Dade prosecutors laid out their case Wednesday, more than four years after Beckman was charged in the slaying of Jay Beckman.

But his defense attorney suggested that Beckman’s comments about hating his father over the years were nothing more than the outbursts of a socially awkward but harmless teen. And the shooting itself was accidental, Assistant Public Defender Tara Kawass told jurors.

“He did not intentionally and purposefully pull that trigger,” Kawass said.

Beckman, now 23 and considerably taller than when he was first jailed, is facing up to life in prison if convicted.

He told police that he had tried showing his father how he had assembled the weapon, but it went off by accident. At first, detectives arrested Beckman for manslaughter, a count later upgraded to first-degree murder.

The slaying shocked South Miami, where Jay Beckman, a civil engineer elected to the commission in 2006, had also been the president of a local homeowners association.

The unique trial will cast a spotlight on the strained relationship between Beckman and his 52-year-old father.

A junior at South Miami High, Beckman told police he didn’t have any best friends or close school acquaintances. He said he owned only one pair of shoes, lived in a house with no kitchen or air conditioning and ate dinner out most nights with his father.

He and his father had a rocky relationship — Jay Beckman said his son was a “burden,” the teen told detectives after the shooting. His mother died of cancer in 1998.

While acquaintances of Beckman knew him as a strange young man prone to speaking out of turn during school, he was never violent or aggressive, Kawass told jurors during opening statements.

“Socially awkward. Speaking out. Odd. These are words they will use to describe Jason,” said Kawass, who is defending him along with Herb Smith.

Neither side told jurors that Beckman has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism characterized by average to even high intelligence and the inability to socialize or form meaningful relationships.

“His differences in no way prevented or excused his intentions or his plans to murder his own father,” Dobbins said.

Prosecutors portrayed Beckman as calculated, even keeping a list of his suspected enemies on a notebook paper — a list topped by his father.

Jurors on Wednesday viewed dozens of crime-scene photos and key evidence such as the bullet-scarred shower curtain, ammunition found in the house and the shotgun itself.

Dobbins told jurors that Beckman, two weeks before the shooting, confided to a friend that he planned to kill his father and claim it was self-defense. He carefully showed the teenage girl the shotgun, even offering it to her to use to kill her own parents, Dobbins said.

For prosecutors, the girl’s description of Beckman handling the weapon, explaining the importance of the firearm’s safety, is key in undermining his claim that the shooting was an accident.

“I want to kill my father. Those were the words out of this defendant’s mouth, time and time again before he brutally murdered him,” said Dobbins, who is trying the case with Gail Levine.

The trial is expected to last two weeks before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith.

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