Jurors convict South Miami teen who killed commissioner father

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

After five days of testimony chronicling Jason Beckman’s boiling hatred of his father, a South Miami commissioner, jurors spent just two hours to reach their conclusion.

It was no accident. Beckman murdered his father with a close-range shotgun blast to the face in April 2009.

Jurors on Monday night convicted Beckman, 21, of first-degree murder with a firearm. Prosecutors said they will seek a life sentence.

Beckman grimaced when the clerk read the verdict. As the 12-person jury filed out of the courtroom, the gangly young man glared at the ground, stuffed his hands in his pocket and muttered to himself as corrections officers handcuffed him.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith on Tuesday will set a future sentencing date.

Monday’s verdict followed an afternoon of dramatic closing arguments and more than four years of legal wrangling.

The killing of Jay Beckman, a city commissioner for three years, shocked South Miami. The case was more unusual because Jason Beckman, a South Miami High student at the time, suffers from a mild form of autism characterized by above-average intelligence.

Prosecutors said that in April 2009, he methodically assembled a 12-gauge shotgun, loaded the weapon and walked into the bathroom where his 52-year-old father was showering.

“He leveled that shotgun, aimed it and he fired,” prosecutor Gail Levine told jurors during closing arguments of Beckman’s trial for murder. “BANG!”

Then Levine’s voice quieted as she told jurors that even weeks before the slaying, Beckman already had begun to plan how he would defend the killing.

“No accident. No self-defense. No insanity,” Levine said. “Nothing but a pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder.”

His defense lawyer Herb Smith countered by saying no witnesses saw Beckman put the gun together and fire the weapon.

Smith quoted a neighbor who told jurors that Beckman apparently yelled out after the shooting, “Oh my God, somebody call 911.”

“You know those words tell you Jason Beckman did not intend to kill his father,” Smith said.

Miami-Dade prosecutors portrayed Beckman as a young man who openly loathed his widowed father and made no bones about wanting to kill him.

Student after student, former classmates at South Miami High, testified about Beckman’s open hatred of his father, a civil engineer and president of a local homeowners association. One student testified that Beckman blamed his father for his mother’s death of cancer years before. Several told jurors that Beckman railed about his father’s lack of intelligence.

One former classmate said that Beckman hated his father because of the commissioner’s tolerance of others. Jurors, however, were not allowed to hear that the teen said he did not like minorities and gays.

The students also talked about Beckman’s “List,” an ever-changing document that the teen kept chronicling his enemies, his father always at the top with a “Five” next to his name.

“Once you reach Level Five, you’re dead. There is no way off the list,” Levine told jurors in closing arguments Monday. “Jay Beckman was the only one to reach Level Five.”

And key for prosecutors: Beckman’s neighbor Lisa Syren, who told jurors that a week before the slaying, the teen showed her the shotgun and told her of his plan to kill him and claim self-defense.

Prosecutors also introduced a jailhouse informant who said Beckman admitted to shooting his father after the man made a wisecrack about actress Megan Fox. Jay Beckman told his son “he wouldn’t know what to do with that,” a comment that enraged Beckman, the inmate told jurors.

During their case, Miami-Dade prosecutors made the strategic move to not play Beckman’s videotaped statement to police in which he claimed the shooting was an accident, not self-defense. That forced Beckman to consider taking the witness stand, although ultimately, his lawyers convinced him not to testify.

“The defendant knew exactly what he was doing in that statement. Whether it was kept out or it was put in, it wouldn’t have made any difference. His actions spoke louder than his statements,” said Levine, who tried the case with Jessica Dobbins, after the verdict.

Beckman might not have fared well on the stand.

His defense lawyers sought to underscore his odd, socially awkward demeanor, as well as the bare-boned conditions in which he lived with his father. They also attacked the credibility of many of the witnesses.

They fought to no avail to inform jurors that Beckman suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, which is characterized by the inability to socialize or form meaningful relationships. Prosecutors, however, successfully argued that no defense expert could say that the syndrome contributed to Beckman killing his father.

Beckman’s lawyers, Smith and Tara Kawass, declined to comment after the verdict.

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