Jurors heard closing arguments today in the trial for an Antioch woman accused of torturing and abusing her two foster children for years and ultimately killing one of them in 2008.
On Sept. 2, 2008, Antioch police were called to the home of Shemeeka Davis, now 40, where they found 15-year-old Jazzmin Davis dead on the floor. She had died about two hours earlier, but Davis did not call 911. Instead, she called her mother, who eventually called police, attorneys said.
At the time of her death, Jazzmin, who was 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighed only 78 pounds and had scars and injuries covering her entire body, prosecutor Satish Jallepalli said. The coroner found that she died from a combination of physical abuse and malnutrition, Jallepalli said. Jazzmin’s twin brother was also severely malnourished and had extensive injuries, but he lived and was able to testify during trial to the abuse he and his sister suffered at the hands of Davis, who had cared for them since birth.
Davis has entered a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to one count of murder, two counts of torture and two counts of felony child abuse. Because of the dual plea, if Davis is found guilty of any of the charges, there will be a second phase to the trial, during which jurors will be asked to decide whether Davis was legally sane at the time she allegedly committed the crimes.
Her attorney, Betty Barker, argued throughout the trial that Davis suffered from several severe mental illnesses, including psychotic delusions, and was therefore unable to form the intent to torture either of the children or to murder Jazzmin. Jallepalli has agreed that Davis is mentally ill, but argued that her actions show that she was aware that the abuse she was inflicting on the children was wrong because she took steps to cover it up.
Beginning in 2002, Davis started skipping doctor’s appointments for Jazzmin’s brother, who needed treatment for sickle cell anemia. It was around that time that Davis allegedly began beating the children with belts. The beatings continued to escalate over time and Davis allegedly began using electrical cords, a wooden closet rod, and a belt with a padlock attached to one end to beat the children. She also allegedly burned them with a hot iron, deprived them of food and kept them locked in their closet for long periods of time, Jallepalli said.
As the beatings escalated, Davis stopped taking Jazzmin’s brother to the doctor altogether. In the year before Jazzmin’s death, Davis stopped letting her go to school or even leave the house. The summer before Jazzmin died, Davis applied for guardianship of the children, which was granted a week before Jazzmin’s death. Guardianship meant no more visits from social workers, Jallepalli said. “Hiding evidence, falsifying evidence — and the children were the evidence — are key signs of awareness and consciousness of guilt,” Jallepalli said.
Despite her mental illnesses, Jallepalli said Davis “chose to lie. She chose to hide the kids. She chose to withhold necessary medical treatment. She chose not to feed them or to feed them less and she chose to cut them off from people who could help them,” Jallepalli said.
He said her mental illnesses were no excuse for what she did and asked the jury to convict Davis of first-degree murder, torture and child abuse. Barker, however, painted a different picture of what went on in Davis’ house. She claimed that when Davis beat the children, she did so in order to teach them to behave.
In order for abuse to be legally considered torture, a person has to inflict pain or suffering on another person for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion or any sadistic purpose. Barker argued that Davis’ delusions, caused by her mental illnesses, prevented her from forming the specific intent required to prove a charge of torture.
Similarly, Barker argued that Davis’ mental illness prevented her from forming an intent to kill Jazzmin. According to Barker, Davis’ delusions caused her to believe that Jazzmin was evil and that she was a danger to her and her daughter, who was 7 years old when Jazzmin died.
She allegedly told a friend that she believed Jazzmin had put urine in the apple juice and Comet or Ajax in food. She believed that the twins were escaping from their closet and urinating on the floor, cutting wires under the hood of the car, tampering with the fireplace and ruining Davis’ things, Barker said. She believed that while she and her daughter were sleeping, Jazzmin would escape from her room, go into Davis’ room and cut their hair and put household cleaners in it.
“She truly believed that these things were happening,” Barker said. But “her intent, as deranged as it may be, was to make them behave,” Barker said. “Because she was mentally ill, she did not and could not form the specific intent” to torture the children or murder Jazzmin, Barker said.
Four months before Jazzmin’s death, Davis stopped going to work. She allegedly spent most of her time inside her bedroom with the door bolted shut from the inside. In case that did not hold, she also had an ironing board barricading the door and a rope attached to the doorknob to tie it shut, Barker said.
Jazzmin and her brother, meanwhile, spent most of their time locked in their closet in their bedroom, but Davis allegedly believed they could escape and were putting feces and urine in her lotion, Barker said. She changed the locks often, put baby powder on the floor so she could see their footprints, tied bells and ropes to the doorknobs and put a baby monitor outside the closet door, Barker said.
After Jazzmin died, Davis allegedly told Jazzmin’s brother, “I just wanted you to stop,” Barker said. Barker conceded that Davis was guilty of child abuse, but asked the jury to find her not guilty of murder and torture. The jury began deliberating in the case this afternoon in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez and are expected to resume deliberations Thursday at 9 a.m.
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