This Boy's Life

Joshua Beckius was only sixteen when he accepted a plea bargain for a crime he now says he didn't commit. Will the court let him take his case to trial?

"Josh," said the interrogator, "what I'm telling you is everybody we've talked to on the outside says two people went into the movie theater...I believe when we talk to Charlie Pa he's going to say, 'Yeah, I went in. Yeah, we were going to rob the place, it was going to be strictly a robbery but for some reason this nut kid shot the guy...'

"Do I believe that?" the cop continued. "No, I don't. But I think that's gonna be Charlie's story...He's gonna try to screw you."

"Well, is there any way I can go through that wire thing?" asked Beckius. And a few minutes later: "Was there anybody else in that movie theater? Other people that were working there? I want the whole thing reinvestigated, 'cause I know that I wasn't at the scene of the crime...I know I wasn't there and I didn't pull the trigger and I didn't commit murder or accessory to murder or conspiracy or robbery. I...I'm [inaudible] 'cause I know I didn't do it...

Life in the best lane: On February 17, Jim Lambert had his friends on pins and needles.
Life in the best lane: On February 17, Jim Lambert had his friends on pins and needles.
Dayton James died at the Basemar Cinema Savers on April 27, 1993.
Dayton James died at the Basemar Cinema Savers on April 27, 1993.

"I love my girlfriend and my baby more -- well, it's not really my baby, but I love that guy with all my heart and ah...for you guys to say that it...Charlie Pa says that I was there..."

"I've done about a hundred interviews," the cop said.

"And in all hundred of them interviews I was the one that...that I was the one that did it?"

"Your name keeps coming up."

"Okay, we'll go to trial."

Two days after this interview, Beckius called the supervision team and asked Jennifer Adams for the dates on which he'd been restrained by an ankle bracelet. He became "very upset," she told police, when he found out that April 26, 1993, wasn't included.

The police did have some cause to be skeptical of their suspect's protestations of innocence. The word incorrigible might have been coined to describe Joshua Beckius. He began developing a drug and alcohol problem at the age of seven or eight. His juvenile record is sealed, but it's clear that he ran wild, arriving at school drunk or stoned, repelling all of his father's attempts at discipline. He stole from his family; he assaulted a boy who he said had insulted his mother. He rattled in and out of rehabilitation programs, institutions and therapists' offices. And finally he began hanging out with Charlie Pa and his cronies.

Tim Beckius lives in a small, comfortable house not far from the Basemar Shopping Center with his girlfriend of seven years, Carrie Milici. He is a quiet man with a subdued manner, a concrete finisher who has worked in the same profession for his entire adult life. He married Josh's mother, Patricia, when he was 24.

"She was a wild one," Tim says. "We bought a house, kind of jumped in with both feet. She started staying out late, and I'd finally had enough and left. Josh was probably a little over a year old at that time. We used to party a little bit...but she really had a serious drinking problem after we broke up."

Josh's early life was chaotic; some members of his mother's family dealt drugs. He spent much of his time with his maternal grandmother. Tim's parents say Patricia Beckius was basically a loving mother, but she sometimes would ask them to watch Josh for a few hours and then end up leaving him for days.

Beckius has no image of his mother. "The only thing I can remember, and I don't even know if it's true," he says, "is that I might have set a chair on fire. She asked me to go get her lighter and cigarettes and on the way back in I just started playing with the lighter, and the chair went up in flames."

Patricia Beckius had been drinking on the night of August 13, 1983, when she collapsed on Federal Boulevard at about 1:25 a.m. and was hit by a car. She died at the scene. Josh was four years old. He was told of his mother's death by his half-brother. "He was so young," says his father, "he didn't really realize."

Tim, who had been seeing his son every weekend, brought him into the Jamestown home he shared with his then-girlfriend, Melanie Tope. Josh liked Tope, who tried to be both a friend and a mother to him, and Tim was a conscientious father who took his son fishing and camping on weekends. But Tim and Melanie broke up three or four years after Josh came to live with them. Tim worked long hours to support himself and his son, and Josh was forced to become self-sufficient very early.

A year after his mother's death, Josh's maternal grandmother also died. By all accounts, Josh was inconsolable. But tragedy and violence weren't through with him. When he was eight years old, Melanie Tope was killed by the man she was then living with, Donald Gibson. Newspaper headlines described the murder scene as "bizarre." Apparently Gibson beat Tope, shot her to death and then shot himself. He survived long enough to walk around and smoke a couple of cigarettes before collapsing. Alcohol and cocaine were found in both bodies.

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