A jury deliberated less than two hours Friday before finding Richard Lyons guilty of the 2008 beating and stabbing death of his 9-year-old daughter, Mya Lyons of Addison.
In a case that depended largely on circumstantial evidence, prosecutors say testimony from a blood-splatter expert was key to securing a conviction of the 45-year-old Lyons, who authorities say murdered the girl in his van and dumped her body in an overgrown alley near his South Side Chicago home.
Mya Lyons, who had just completed third grade at G. Stanley Hall School in Glendale Heights, suffered multiple stab wounds to her chest, abdomen and neck as well as skull fractures, which authorities say resulted from Lyons slamming her into a lock box behind his home.
"The fact that he could do something like this to her hurt me more than anything," said Ericka Barnes, Mya's mother. "In court yesterday, she told her story. Today he has to pay. He has to pay for what he did to my baby."
Lyons said the girl wandered away from his Gilbert Avenue home sometime after 11 p.m. on July 14, 2008. Prosecutors disputed that claim, saying going off at night would be uncharacteristic for a girl who was afraid of the dark and slept with the light on.
While family members alerted neighbors that Mya was missing, Lyons drove around looking for her in what prosecutors described as an attempt to divert suspicion from himself.
Authorities did not initially target Lyons.
"Little by little his story started to unravel," said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez during a post-verdict news conference.
"The investigation was methodical for a reason," she said. "The evidence was circumstantial but we felt confident in our expert testimony."
While prosecutors offered no motive for the murder, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy speculated during closing arguments Friday that a confrontation occurred that night between Lyons and his daughter.
"He had to be furious with her. Maybe because she stayed out late. Maybe she said something he didn't like," McCarthy said.
She said Lyons snapped and slammed Mya against the lock box. After that, he went into self-preservation mode and decided to make Mya's death look like the work of "some crazed killer," McCarthy said.
Prosecutors said Lyons pulled the girl into his van, stabbed her, drove to the alley where he dumped her body, then drove around the neighborhood pretending to look for her. Prosecutors say Lyons' "show" concluded when he reportedly found Mya's body, put her back into the van and drove to the hospital.
McCarthy said Lyons "almost got away with it," until a blood-splatter expert identified traces of Mya's blood on a window shade, arm rest and dashboard, places where it would not have been if Lyons had merely laid his daughter on the van floor like he claimed.
Cook County Assistant Public Defender Christopher Anderson questioned the credibility of the state's expert, saying the expert saw what prosecutors wanted and sold it to them.
"He's working a scam on the state because they want to solve this case," Anderson said.
Anderson insisted that no witness, weapon, footprints or motive connected Lyons to the murder. The attorney posited that Mya may have surprised a burglar, who then killed the girl to silence her.
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Fabio Valentini rejected defense claims during the state's rebuttal.
"A poor little girl wanders out into the night for the first time in her life ... Some stranger happens to be walking through the alley. Along comes a grieving father ... It's a really compelling story," Valentini said.
But it's "bogus," he said. "It's a story told by a killer."