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Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jason Beckman: The Murderous Son

     In 2009, 17-year-old Jason Beckman lived with his 52-year-old father, Jay Beckman, in South Miami, Florida. The South Miami High School student's mother had died of cancer in 1998 when he was six. Mr. Beckman, since 2006, had been a South Miami City Commissioner.

     In the afternoon of April 13, 2009, Jason Beckman called 911 to report an accidental shooting that had killed his father.  Police officers found Jay Beckman in his bathroom shower stall with his face blow away from a close-range shotgun blast.

     When questioned at the police station, Jason Beckman said he had taken his father's Browning Citori 12-gauge, double barrel shotgun out of the closet and assembled it. He carried the gun into his father's bathroom to show him that he knew how to assemble and load the weapon. In the bathroom he slipped and fell causing the shotgun to discharge. The boy claimed that his father's death had been a tragic accident. At this point, although Jason's story didn't make a whole lot of sense, detectives had no reason to suspect an intentional killing.

     A local prosecutor, on the theory the fatal shooting had been an accident, charged Jason Beckman with manslaughter by firearm, a lesser homicide offense involving negligent behavior rather than specific criminal intent.

     As the investigation into the violent death progressed, detectives began to question whether the shooting had been an accident. Among Jason's belongings investigators found a list of people he said he wanted to kill. Jay Beckman's name was at the top of the hit list. A Beckman neighbor told officers that Jason, for years, had made no secret of the fact he planned to kill his father some day. Jason's friends came forward and confirmed the boy's hatred of his father and his stated plans to murder him.

     Jason, when questioned by detectives a second time, stuck to his original account of the shooting. He did, however, say that his father had threatened to kill him.

     In light of the new, incriminating evidence, the prosecutor upgraded the charge against Jason Beckman to first-degree murder. Investigators now believed the killing had been intentional and pre-meditated.

     The Beckman trial got underway on November 4, 3013. Prosecutor Jessica Dobbins, in her opening statement to the jury, said, "We are here today because the defendant regularly talked about his hatred for his father and his desire to kill him." Defense attorney Tara Kawass told the jurors that Jason was not an aggressive person. "No one was scared of him," she said.

     On November 8, two of the defendant's classmates took the stand for the prosecution. According to both witnesses Jason kept a list of people who had crossed him. Moreover, the defendant had told several people, "countless times," that he hated his father and intended to kill him.

     Jailhouse snitch Michael Nistal took the stand for the prosecution. In 2008 the burglar had been involved in a high-speed police chase that ended with his brother being shot to death by the police. In 2009, while incarcerated at the Turner Guilford Knight Correction Center in West Miami, one of Nistal's fellow prisoners--Jason Beckman--told him why he had murdered his father.

     According to the jailhouse informant, just before the shooting, Jason had asked his father what he thought of an actress named Megan Fox. Nistal testified that, "Jason's father told him he [Jason] wouldn't know what to do with that. So he [the defendant] went and got a shotgun and blew his father's head off." After the shooting, according to Nistal, Jason poked his father's body to see if he was still alive.

     Nistal testified that Beckman had told him that he planned to beat the murder rap by claiming the shooting was an accident or by asserting self-defense or insanity. According to the witness, Jason knew right from wrong and was not mentally ill when he committed the murder.

     Tara Kawass, Beckman's attorney, did her best to convince the jury that testimony from jailhouse snitches was notoriously unreliable. She said that Nistal, who was serving a seven-year stretch in prison, had exchanged his bogus testimony for a lighter sentence. Attorney Kawass did not put her client on the stand to testify on his own behalf.

     On November 8, 2013 the jury, at eight o'clock that night, announced its verdict. The jurors found Jason Beckman guilty as charged. In Florida, first-degree murder brings a sentence that ranges between 25 years and life.

     The defendant, when he heard the verdict, shook his head. "I don't understand," he said. "I really don't."

     In December 2014, when Judge Rodney Smith sentenced Beckman to life in prison, he said, "You had no remorse. You even told your fellow inmate you were glad your father was dead." 

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