Jasmiyah Whitehead, one of the young twins charged with the bloody 2010 killing of their mother in Conyers, followed her sister in admitting to the crime Friday.
"I just want to say I’m sorry for all that has happened and all the pain it has caused to my family and my sister and especially my mom," Whitehead testified before Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge David Irwin sentenced her to 30 years in prison.
"This is not where I want to be," Whitehead said. "I want to contribute to the world. Not hurt my mom."
Jasmiyah admitted to joining her twin sister Tasmiyah in a brutal fight with their mother, Jarmecca "Nikki" Whitehead, that left the mother stabbed to death with a kitchen knife. The twins, now 20 years old, were 16 at the time of the killing.
Irwin last month sentenced Tasmiyah to the same 30-year prison term on the same three charges: voluntary manslaughter, falsification in a government matter, and possession of a knife in commission of a crime.
He declined Jasmiyah’s request for "first-offender status," which would have taken the charges off her record once she finished her sentence. He had not given Tasmiyah first offender status and said he believed the sisters should be treated equally.
"The tragedy doesn’t end," Irwin said before sentencing Jasmiyah. "I don’t think there’s a person here whose heart has not been broken. I know mine has. I know the family’s has."
Jasmiyah at one point smiled at her attorneys, Dwight Thomas and Hannah Ward. On the way out the door to serve a generation-long prison sentence, she waved to family members seated with her great-grandmother, Della Frazier.
Complicated family tensions involving Frazier, Nikki and Lynda Whitehead set the background for the crime, District Attorney Richard Read previously told the court. Frazier had custody of the twins at one point. Lynda Whitehead attended today’s hearing. She began crying during Jasmiyah’s statement and was sobbing uncontrollably after sentencing. Family members said she would not have immediate comment to the press. At Tasmiyah’s guilty plea hearing last month, Lynda Whitehead testified to Irwin, calling herself a "broken mother and a broken grandmother" and saying, "There are no winners here."
Frazier also declined immediate comment after consulting other family members.
"We do want to speak ... if we can just get through this day," Frazier told The News. "We’ll tell our side of the story."
Family tensions clearly remain. After the sentencing, one family member consoling Lynda Whitehead chided Frazier, saying, "This is your child. Why not comfort her?"
Nikki’s friends Yucca Harris and Lakia Barthell were split on how much weight to give Jasmiyah’s statement.
"I believe she’s sorry, based on the fact she was only 16 (at the time of the crime)," said Barthell. "I don’t think there’s no remorse, but I think she don’t know."
Harris disagreed. "They were smart, intelligent girls. It was thought out, planned," she said. "I think they’re sorry now that there’s consequences to their actions."
In their young lives, the twins grew increasingly troubled. In 2008, Jasmiyah was ruled "ungovernable" in county juvenile court. The twins were eventually placed back into Nikki’s custody.
The twins reportedly had repeated violent arguments with their mother at her home at 2020 Appaloosa Way, Conyers. The tensions finally exploded in a vicious fight on Jan. 13, 2010, when the twins stabbed Nikki to death and left her body in a bathtub. The killing was so violent that Nikki bit Tasmiyah during the combat.
"I take full responsibility for my actions," Jasmiyah said in court Friday. "I thank y’all for your mercy and leniency."
But there are still mysteries about what exactly those actions were. Jasmiyah admitted to an official version of the crime that her sister originally confessed to last month. That narrative claims Nikki started the fight and was the first to wave the knife, but it does not make it clear whether both twins stabbed her or how she ended up in the tub. The case has other mysteries as well, including why Nikki ran to a neighbor’s house for help, then returned to her home, where the twins killed her.
"I don’t know who was the leader and who was the follower," Judge Irwin said, explaining that mystery is part of the reason he would not grant Jasmiyah first-offender status. He said he suspects they were "co-conspirators, if that’s the right word."
Attorney Dwight Thomas had requested that status, saying, "I think everybody in this society is entitled to some form of redemption."
Irwin said he agreed, but that both twins deserved the same sentence. He said the state’s decision to accept pleas to manslaughter rather than murder, and Jasmiyah’s confession, are parts of redemption, too.