A 26-year-old Chattanooga woman whose trial on charges she stabbed a teenage girl with scissors in a street fight ended in a mistrial in March pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Wednesday.
Temekia Reed went to trial on a charge of first-degree murder in March but Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern declared a mistrial when the jury stalled at 10-2 for a guilty verdict after 10 hours of deliberation.
Prosecutors Cameron Williams and David Schmidt had prepared to retry the case next week. But after talking with the family of victim Shaviya Vinson about problems with changing witness testimony and likely difficulties getting key evidence to a new jury, they offered Reed the plea.
"When you're talking in terms of people serving years in prison, it's difficult to equate that to losing a loved one," Williams said. "[The family] understands the resolution. They weren't happy with it."
If convicted of first-degree murder, Reed would have faced life in prison, which is a half century before parole consideration.
Reed was sentenced to eight years on the voluntary manslaughter guilty plea and must serve 35 percent, or two and a half years, before being considered eligible for parole.
She will receive credit for jail time served.
She's been incarcerated since shortly after the Dec. 19, 2011, stabbing death.
Reed's attorney, Chrissy Mincy, said that her client maintains her innocence and entered what's known as a "best interest" plea. The plea acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to take the case to trial but means Reed still denies killing Vinson.
"She had already sat through one trial," Mincy said. "I can't imagine what it's like to sit in that chair with your life on the line."
Mincy said that with this plea her client can regain her freedom and be with her children again. The possibility of a conviction at trial weighed heavily on Reed, considering the possible life sentence.
The defense attorney credited prosecutors for closely looking at the case and coming to the plea agreement before the planned trial.
The emotional March trial included multiple outbursts by family members of Vinson, 16, and a replay of a cellphone video of the street fight that led to the teen's death.
The fight initially didn't involve either Vinson or Reed. It started from an argument between Reed's mother, Natalia Reed, and Rene Cross over a $20 debt owed to Natalia Reed for babysitting.
Footage of the College Hill Courts scuffle is dark and at least a dozen people are crowded around people involved in the exchange.
At the moment prosecutors allege Reed stabbed Vinson, Reed's brother is standing in the way of the camera. Vinson is not seen clearly again on the footage.
Williams and Schmidt relied heavily on testimony of Reed's brother and sister, both present at the fight. But both wavered on the stand, and Reed's sister, Derrecka Witcher, denied previous statements she'd made to police implicating Reed.
Natalia Reed was filmed in a police interview calling her daughter over the cellphone and coaxing her to admit to what happened.
Prosecutors subpoenaed Natalia Reed for the March trial, but she never appeared. Williams said Wednesday that Natalia Reed still hasn't been found despite her knowing she was to have testified in the previous trial.
Contact staff writer Todd South at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...