Jasmiyah Whitehead, 20, waves briefly to her great-grandmother Della Frazier as she is led from the courtroom following a guilty plea Friday morning. Whitehead and her twin sister, Tasmiyah Whitehead, each pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the 2010 killing of their 34-year-old mother, Jarmecca Whitehead. Each received a total of 30 years in prison. (Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith)
CONYERS — In a case described as a tragedy, twin sisters who stabbed their mother to death in 2010 have both been sentenced to three decades in prison.
Jasmiyah Kaneeshia Whitehead pleaded guilty Friday morning to her mother’s killing in Rockdale Superior Court. Her sister, Tasmiyah Janeesha Whitehead, pleaded guilty in January. Both defendants were sentenced on reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter, falsifying a statement to a government entity and possession of a knife in the commission of a crime. Each was originally charged with felony murder and aggravated assault in the death of their 34-year-old mother, Jarmecca Whitehead.
Unlike her sister, Jasmiyah spoke in court Friday, expressing remorse and drawing sobs from her grandmother, Lynda Whitehead, mother of the victim.
“I just want to say I’m sorry this happened and all the pain that it caused my family, my sister, our friends, and most importantly, my mom,” Jasmiyah said. “I’m sorry for everything, and I take full responsibility for my actions. I want to thank y’all for the mercy and leniency in my sentencing. This is not where I want to be; I wanted to contribute … I’m sorry for everything.”
Jasmiyah’s attorney, Dwight Thomas, asked the court to grant first offender status to Jasmiyah due to the “tender age” of his client, who was 16 at the time the crime was committed.
“I think everybody in this society is entitled to some modicum of redemption or the opportunity to be redeemed, especially in terms of our laws in the state of Georgia,” said Thomas, who represented Jasmiyah pro bono. “The state of Georgia allows an individual to seek that redemption through the courts.”
Senior Superior Court Judge David Irwin denied the request, saying that he had to treat each defendant equally and that the plea deal was, in itself, a second chance.
“I believe in redemption; I believe everybody should have a second chance. No question about that. I believe Ms. Whitehead when she says she’s sorry,” Irwin said.
Irwin also said he believed that by entering a guilty plea, Whitehead had shown a willingness to change.
“I think the state of Georgia recognizes that by offering the plea to voluntary manslaughter as opposed to murder,” he said.
An outline of the circumstances of the Jan. 13 killing of Jarmecca Whitehead, presented in January by District Attorney Richard Read, depicted a life of turmoil in the Whitehead home. Read said the situation worsened when the girls were 13 and their mother moved them from their great-grandmother’s home into a house she shared with her live-in boyfriend. The girls’ behavior deteriorated, and their mother believed they had begun using drugs and had become sexually active.
There were also tensions between Jarmecca and the girls’ great-grandmother. Read said Jarmecca apparently believed that the great-grandmother overstepped her authority with the girls.
The tensions erupted in June 2008 when the Conyers Police Department was called to the Whitehead home on Appaloosa Way in response to a physical fight between mother and daughters. The girls were subsequently charged with juvenile offenses, and over the next several years they were in and out of Juvenile Court. Custody of the girls was swapped several times between their mother and great-grandmother.
On the day of Jarmecca’s killing, the twins woke up late, and their mother became upset that they had missed the school bus, Read said. They were in the kitchen where Jarmecca picked up a pot and slung it toward Jasmiyah.
“She reacted and took the pot and their mom grabbed a steak knife and a fight began,” Read said in January.
In the fight Jarmecca was stabbed and cut several times. According to the medical examiner, four of the wounds were significant, including wounds to her lungs and jugular vein. A stab wound to her spinal cord proved fatal.
The girls then went to school and later told police they found their mother’s body when they returned that afternoon.
In court in January, Lynda Whitehead, Jarmecca’s mother, asked for a “fair decision” for her daughter.
“I am a broken mother, I am a broken grandmother,” she said. “I ask you not to lose sight of what my daughter went through. I ask for a just decision, a fair decision.”
In court Friday, Whitehead became distraught during the sentencing and was comforted by family members.
Prior to handing down the court’s sentence, Irwin described the case as a tragedy that doesn’t end.
“I don’t think there’s a person here whose heart has not been broken,” he said. “I know mine has and the family’s has. And there’s no such thing as closure — ever — from the courts. We’re just the courts. Closure has to come from within. … People can learn and heal in the process by people stepping up and acknowledging their participation, and I think that’s what Ms. Whitehead has done here today.”
Reporter Aimee Jones contributed to this report.