Jury recommends life in prison for Kayla's dad

TAVARES, Fla. - A man who beat his 6-year-old daughter to death after she soiled herself was spared the death penalty Monday in a case that spurred widespread changes in Florida's child protection system.

Richard Adams, convicted of first-degree murder last week in his daughter Kayla's death, was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Juror Keith Canada said the jury, which voted 8-4 in favor of life in prison, believed the defense argument that social workers had ignored Adams' pleas for help in controlling his temper.

''They did not do justice to Kayla,'' Canada said. ''There were all kinds of calls for help.''

Adams reported Kayla missing on Thanksgiving Day 1998, spurring a five-day search that ended when Adams and Kayla's stepmother led authorities to a shallow grave in a forest where the little girl had been buried.

The investigation the followed led to changes in the Department of Children and Families, including the firings and resignations of at least six workers accused of missing repeated signs of abuse.

Department officials had said they believed Adams' explanations that Kayla's black eyes, broken bones and bruises were the result of a bicycle accident or playing with the family dog.

In pleading for leniency for Adams, defense attorney Jeff Pfister said Adams was desperate and urged the jury to ''consider the gross negligence of the state.''

Prosecutor Ric Ridgway compared that argument to that of a drunken driver who gets into a car accident and blames it on the bartender who didn't stop him from drinking.

Many people besides Adams are to blame for Kayla's death, from child welfare workers to the prosecutor's office that ignored a report on abuse suspicions, Ridgway said.

''The 'if-onlys' and 'what-ifs' in this case are enough to keep you up at night,'' he said. ''The tragedy of her death is the only thing greater than the tragedy of her life.''


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