Tasmiyah Whitehead, left, stands with her attorney, David LaMalva, Thursday while Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge David Irwin accepts her guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter of her mother in January 2010. (Staff photo: Alice Queen)
CONYERS — One of the twin girls who was accused of stabbing her mother to death pleaded guilty Thursday to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison.
Appearing before Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge David Irwin Thursday afternoon, Tasmiyah Janeesha Whitehead pleaded guilty to the charges of voluntary manslaughter, falsifying a statement to a governmental entity and possession of a knife in the commission of a crime. She was sentenced to serve 20 years on the charge of voluntary manslaughter, a consecutive five years on the falsifying information charge and another five years on the weapons possession charge. Whitehead will be given credit for the four years she has served already, the judge said.
Tasmiyah Whitehead’s twin sister, Jasmiyah Kaneeshia Whitehead, is scheduled to go to trial on March 17.
The twins, who were 16 at the time of the murder, were originally charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. However, on Thursday, Tasmiyah pleaded guilty to the amended charges that included voluntary manslaughter.
Before announcing the sentence, Irwin said he had always read of a “tragedy of epic proportions.”
“Until today, I didn’t’ really know what that meant. I know what that means today,” he said.
Prior to Whitehead entering her plea, Rockdale County District Attorney Richard Read outlined the circumstances of the Jan. 13, 2010, murder of Whitehead’s mother, Jarmecca Whitehead.
At the time of their mother’s death, the twins told authorities they came home from school and discovered their mother’s body in the bathroom. After investigating further, police found enough evidence to arrest the girls in May of that year.
According to Read, the Whiteheads girls’ teen years were tumultuous. Until the twins were about 13, they seemingly had a good life, he said. They lived with their mother and their great-grandmother, made good grades, attended dance classes and “wanted for nothing,” Read said.
At some point when the girls were 13 years old, things began to change, he said. Their mother, Jarmecca Whitehead, or “Nikki,” moved the girls out of their great-grandmother’s house and into a home she shared with her live-in boyfriend.
“That’s when problems began,” Read said.
The girls’ behavior began to change, they started skipping school, their grades dropped and their mother believed they had begun using drugs and becoming sexually active.
However, the girls saw their mother’s attempts to control them as hypocritical since she too seemed to live a promiscuous lifestyle and use drugs, among other behaviors, Read said.
Furthermore, relations between Nikki Whitehead and the girls’ great-grandmother became rocky because Nikki felt she overstepped her authority with the girls. The great-grandmother, apparently, was concerned about the twins’ well-being living with Nikki, he said.
The tensions came to a boiling point 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. According to Read’s description, police stayed at the house about an hour trying to quell emotions. It was just a few minutes after they left, however, that a fight apparently broke out again. Officers, who were still in their patrol car, saw Nikki running out of the house with scratches and red marks on her body that weren’t there earlier. When officers spoke with all three, they noticed the girls had minor injuries as well.
The twins were taken into custody and charged with juvenile offenses. Over the next several years, the girls were in and out of the Juvenile Court, and Jasmiyah, Tasmiyah, Nikki and the great-grandmother all underwent court-ordered counseling, Read said.
At some point, custody of the girls was given to the great-grandmother, but the counselor found that the entire family “thrives on chaos” and that all the adults “have failed” to control the situation, Read said. Giving custody to the great-grandmother just “swapped one situation for another,” the counselor reported.
Consequently, the Juvenile Court returned the girls to the custody of their mother on Jan. 5, 2010, a move that upset the girls, Jasmiyah in particular.
After that hearing, “chaos” erupted in the hall of the Juvenile Court, Read said.
“Jasmiyah was the most upset – crying and screaming,” Read said. “Jasmiyah said, ‘If I have to live with you again, I’m going to kill you.’”
A status conference was scheduled for Jan. 19.
In the eight days between Jan. 5 and the murder on Jan. 13, the Conyers Police Department was called to the Whitehead home twice.
Read told the court Thursday that in a recent interview between the District Attorney’s Office and Tasmiyah Whitehead and her attorneys, the circumstances of Nikki Whitehead’s murder became a little clearer.
Based on that interview, he said, Nikki Whitehead had been up late the evening of Jan. 12, talking loudly on the phone to her other boyfriend, while the live-in boyfriend was out of the state working as a long-haul trucker. The emotional conversation, in which they were allegedly discussing ending their relationship, kept the girls awake throughout the night.
The twins woke up late the next morning and found their mother in the kitchen. Tasmiyah said Nikki Whitehead was upset because the girls got up late and missed the bus for school, Read said. Nikki Whitehead 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 the process, Nikki Whitehead was stabbed and cut several times. At some point, she ran out of the house, possibly to try to get help from the next-door neighbor, but she returned a while later. She allegedly lunged for the knife again and the fight continued.
At that time, the “blows necessary to bring about the death of Nikki Whitehead took place,” Read said.
According to the medical examiner, the victim suffered from multiple stab wounds, most of them shallow. Four of the wounds were significant, he said, including wounds to her lungs and her jugular vein. It was, however, the stab wound to her spinal cord that proved to be fatal, Read reported.
After Tasmiyah entered her guilty pleas to the negotiated charges, but before Judge Irwin issued the sentence, Nikki Whitehead’s mother, Glenda Whitehead addressed the court.
“I am a broken mother, I am a broken grandmother,” Glenda Whitehead said. “I ask you not to lose sight of what my daughter went through. I ask for a just decision, a fair decision.”
She broke down in sobs as she said she understands nothing will bring back her daughter, and that she knows actions have consequences.
“I can’t tell you the pain I experience every day and every night. It’s unimaginable,” she said. “Unfortunately, my grandchildren never learned right from wrong. That’s why we’re here.”