Lisa Syren and Jason Beckman, longtime neighbors in South Miami and school mates, shared a typical teenage problem: clashes within their families.
But Beckman, she told jurors Thursday, reserved a particularly deep-seated loathing of his father.
He hated that his dad, South Miami Commissioner Jay Beckman, was too tolerant of people the teen disliked. The younger Beckman also felt his father lacked his intelligence.
In the months before Beckman fatally shot his father in April 2009, the 17-year-old was open about the fate he wanted for the man.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Jason wanted his dad to die. He would constantly say how he wanted to kill his dad,” Syren testified Thursday, on the second day of Beckman’s trial for murder.
“Could you even count how many times he said it?” Miami-Dade prosecutor Gail Levine asked.
“No, too many to count,” Syren said.
Syren’s testimony was crucial for prosecutors who say Beckman, charged with first-degree murder, carefully planned the day he assembled a shotgun and blasted his father in the face as he showered. Defense lawyers say the shooting was unintentional, the work of an odd but harmless teen who lived in Spartan-like conditions with his single father.
For prosecutors, Syren’s testimony was key because her story went beyond Beckman’s general gripes over the years. The key moment: an encounter one or two weeks before Jay Beckman was gunned down.
Syren, now 21 and a fashion store manager, told jurors that she had gone to Beckman’s house across the street to use his phone. Her parents had recently taken away her phone to keep her from her then-boyfriend.
At Beckman’s house, the two talked about their family problems.
Beckman said that her father was too tolerant of other people he did not like. (A judge did not allow jurors to hear that Beckman told Syren he did not like minorities or gay people). He also insisted his father had stripped him of his “ability to feel,” she testified.
“Jason then told me how he was going to kill his dad and make it look like self-defense,” she told jurors.
Beckman, who had hunted alongside his father, then fetched the 12-gauge shotgun to show her. He carefully explained the purpose of the gun’s safety and even offered it to her to kill her parents. “I told him, ‘No, I would never do that,’” Syren told jurors.
But Syren never warned Jay Beckman; she admitted to jurors that she felt guilty about keeping quiet. Syren also admitted that she did not immediately tell police of the encounter after the killing.
Her testimony highlighted a day of witnesses from South Miami High, where Beckman was a junior before he was arrested:
• One former classmate, Ramon Nuñez, testified that Beckman openly talked about hating his father, blaming him for his mother’s death from cancer years ago. Nuñez also said Beckman talked openly about “The List,” an ever-changing document he kept of his enemies.
• South Miami High history teacher Alfred Alvarez, who was on the last version of the list found in Beckman’s home, testified that Beckman once threatened to kill a classmate during an argument.
• One young woman told jurors she complained about Beckman’s hovering and staring at her; she complained to a teacher, whom Beckman then added to his “List.”
Also on Thursday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith refused to declare a mistrial after Beckman’s attorney complained that he had not been allowed to mention that the teen was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. The syndrome is a mild form of autism characterized by average to even high intelligence and the inability to socialize or form meaningful relationships.
In arguing to keep out mention of the syndrome, prosecutors noted that no defense experts had been able to say Asperger’s drove Beckman to kill his father.