From the moment early on July 15, 2008, when she learned her daughter, 9-year-old Mya Lyons of Addison, had been found stabbed to death in Chicago, Ericka Barnes wanted answers.
After nearly 6½ years, she might finally get them.
The trial of Richard Lyons -- Mya's father, who authorities say murdered the youngster in his van and dumped her body in an alley near his Gilbert Avenue home on Chicago's South Side -- began Tuesday in Chicago. In their opening statements, prosecutors painted Lyons, 45, as a manipulative killer who put on a "show" to divert suspicion from himself and place it on a "boogeyman" who didn't exist.
Defense attorney Andrea Webber rejected that assertion, saying her client was not responsible for Mya's tragic death.
"Human nature wants us to place blame and hold someone responsible," she said. But Richard Lyons is not that person, she said.
Cook County State's Attorney Fabio Valentini said Richard Lyons stabbed his daughter dozens of times, then left her body in a weed-choked alley close enough to his home that Mya would have been able to get there on her own.
"That's when the show began," said Valentini, with Lyons driving around the neighborhood looking for his daughter, who he claimed wandered away from his home. No one called police, Valentini said. But family members alerted neighbors, who helped search for Mya, a good student who had just finished the third grade at G. Stanley Hall in Glendale Heights.
Among them was Nakia Akins, who testified that Mya and her older brother Richard, known as "Fudge," were at Akins' home visiting her children between 10:45 and 11 p.m. July 14. Fudge received a call and told Mya they had to go home, said Akins. About 50 minutes later, he returned, saying "we can't find Mya," Akins testified.
Valentini said "the show" concluded with Lyons pretending to discover his daughter's battered body, bundling her onto the floor of his van and driving her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
By the time police searched Lyons' van 10 days later "every visible drop of blood had been scoured away and the clothes he wore on July 15 were gone," said Valentini. However, an expert found blood in places, including inside a vent, where it could not be easily explained, said Valentini, who insisted that the state's expert, as well as photos of Lyons taken the night of the murder, prove his guilt.
No forensic evidence links Lyons to his daughter's death, Webber said. No witnesses saw him commit the crime and prosecutors have no motive for him to harm his daughter, Webber told jurors.
Sixteen months after the murder, police "hit a roadblock," said Webber. "The case was unsolved. The state's attorney's office was frustrated."
And a distraught father paid the price, suggested Webber, who urged jurors to be skeptical of testimony from an expert who knew what prosecutors wanted to hear and obliged them.
"Do not fill in the holes in this case with emotions," Webber said. "It's about facts, not feelings."
Barnes' feelings were evident when she tearfully described the smiling Mya, who Barnes said never wandered off and who liked to sleep with a light on.
After Mya's death, Barnes called Chicago police every other week seeking information. She also knocked on the doors of Gilbert Avenue residents.
"I wanted answers," she said. "I thought maybe the neighbors had seen something. I thought maybe they would confide in me."
The trial is expected to conclude next week.