Murder victim's family paints picture of a Chattanooga mother's life cut short

Amy Smartt plays with Heaven, right, and Taylor Satterfield Friday, Sept. 2, 2016 at the playground near Ross's Landing.
Amy Smartt plays with Heaven, right, and Taylor Satterfield Friday, Sept. 2, 2016 at the playground near Ross's Landing.
photo Amy Smartt talks Friday, Sept. 2, 2016 about her daughter, Keira Patton, who was killed in 2014 at the playground near Ross's Landing.

Keiara Patton went to one club - Fathom, on Market Street. And then, just to say she did it, she stuck one foot through the door and never went clubbing again.

Keiara Patton was such a skinny baby, her afro was bigger than the rest of her body.

Keiara Patton had a favorite color, purple. And a favorite artist, Aaliyah.

And like the 1990s R&B star, Keiara Patton died young, just 20 years old, on the kitchen floor of her College Hill Courts apartment.

On May 13, 2014, Keiara Patton was making pork chops for her sleeping children. Then Taylor Satterfield, the father of those children, came over. They got into an argument, prosecutors said. He waved a gun, shot her in the head, and then tried to dispose of the evidence.

Nearly two months ago, a jury found Satterfield, 22, guilty of second-degree murder after a three-day trial in Hamilton County Criminal Court. Since second-degree murder is a class A felony, he faces 15 to 60 years during his sentencing hearing today.

Now, as they wait for a close to the two-year tragedy, Keiara Patton's family members must come to terms with the picture of her that defense attorneys painted.

"They made her out to be a different person," said her mother, Amy Smartt, 40. "You would have thought she was this mean person who was vengeful against him, who wanted to do him harm. That's not who she was."

Throughout the trial, public defenders said an enraged Patton bought two knives and planned to kill Satterfield because he was seeing another woman.

"Look at the evidence," defender Ted Engel said during opening statements. "It will show she was fed up, that she charged Taylor, and that tragedy ensued."

Hearing the story of her death over and over made the grief feel redundant, mindless. But it only grew worse, Patton's family members say, when the public defenders called two witnesses to repeat the knife story. It only stained their memories of the loving mother and aspiring health care worker.

On a recent day after the trial, Smartt pulled a Chattanooga State Community College ID card out of her wallet. She pointed to the picture of a woman, forever young and smiling under the laminated cover.

"This is who Keiara was," Smartt said. "She wanted to be a pediatrician."

Growing up, Smartt saw it all: Three men who beat her father to death. A mother who struggled with a drug addiction. A life on the streets to avoid her troubled household.

"Once I had Keiara in 1994, it gave me life again," she said.

The first few years, it was just mother and daughter. Then came Jeremiah, Keiara's younger brother, who had sickle- cell trait and was often sick as a child.

Keiara always wanted to help, and her penchant for health care only increased when the family visited her grandfather in a Nashville hospital.

Walking through a nursery ward on that visit, Keiara, then 7, saw rows of sick children behind the glass. "I didn't know babies were born sick," she said, according to her mom.

Until the county changed some school zones, Patton went to school in North Chattanooga. Then came Howard School and Satterfield and their first and second children, Heaven and Taylor Jr. In 2012, she graduated from Howard, then worked for Erlanger hospital and Amazon, Smartt said.

"She was supposed to go to Dalton State," she said. "Then we found out she was pregnant."

For Smartt, it was torture. She urged her daughter to "do better, do better," but she was also proud of how much love and devotion Keiara gave her children.

One time, Smartt caught up with her daughter at a red light. "Momma, you're going to be so mad at me," she recalled Patton saying, "but I just spent $300 on Heaven's birthday!"

When Keiara turned 18 she rekindled her relationship with her father, William Patton, 40, who wasn't around as much when she was a child. Soon the two made talking on the phone a daily ritual.

William Patton saw a few red flags in Keiara's relationship with the father of her children. The first time he met Satterfield, the young man reeked of marijuana as he walked out of a house in Highland Park. "Hey, man, that's a nice cologne," Patton joked at the time.

Although Satterfield was never officially affiliated with the Gangster Disciples, Keiara told her father Satterfield had started going to meetings. And as a minor, Satterfield was picking up drug and resisting-arrest charges in Juvenile Court, records show.

But Patton, who lives in Atlanta now, never understood how bad the situation with Satterfield had become in May 2014.

"I knew something was wrong when I hadn't heard from her in almost three days," Patton said of that time. "I inboxed her on Facebook, she told me TJ had broken her phone. That's the only time I knew maybe this kid had violent tendencies toward my daughter."

Patton had had a troubled youth, too. The son of two educators, he rebelled against a world that seemed rigged against young black men, and picked up charges in Chattanooga and Atlanta. He remembered going to high school in Lookout Valley, dealing with white students who waved Confederate flags and threatened to hang him from the mountain. He saw Satterfield, a young man whose father was incarcerated and whose mother was sickly, and wanted to help.

"But he was so stuck in the streets," Patton said. "My mother says, 'As young adults, we make mistakes.' But who argues with their girlfriend with a pistol in their hand? Where do you learn that type of behavior?"

To combat the violence that took his daughter, Patton is launching a nonprofit organization called "the Patton Promise" to encourage constructive discussions among friends and family members about domestic abuse. Smartt also has spoken out on the issue through Healing on Both Sides, a local group that spreads hope for families who have lost loved ones.

"That's a mistake I made," Patton said of his daughter. "I blew up when she told me about another situation of domestic violence."

In a report that court officials usually request before sentencing hearings, Satterfield expressed remorse for his crime.

"I want to apologize first to both sides of the families and especially my kids," he said on Aug. 8. "I didn't just lose someone that I have a child with, or some girlfriend. I lost my best friend as well, and someone that I really love."

Smartt said she forgives Satterfield because he grew up in a hard world. Still, in her victim impact statement, she asked for a 50-year sentence. She spoke about her blood pressure and depression. She said she hasn't worked in two years and cares for her daughter's children now.

"To know that one day I will have to tell them their own father killed their momma keeps me down," she wrote.

But on Heaven's fifth birthday in August, Smartt took the children and their friends to Southside Social for bowling.

While she watched the children dance and scream, Smartt thought about the stop sign she ran on the car ride over. She could hear Keiara's voice in her head: "Um, excuse me, there was a stop sign there "

She remembered Keiara's final birthday, how her daughter wanted something from Tilly's, a brand-new clothing store, how Keiara squealed when she saw the company logo on her gift bag at dinner, how it was a beautiful white dress that hugged Keiara's skinny body, and how Keiara only wore it once because she was shot nine days later.

Before she could go any further, Smartt pushed the thoughts away.

In the present, Taylor Jr. was standing before the pins, holding a ball bigger than his body, squatting as close as he could to the ground before releasing the giant green sphere down the lane.

It bounced off one bumper, then another, then back again, as it crawled toward the white pyramid at the end. Standing side-by-side, Smartt and Taylor Jr. watched quietly, perhaps thinking about a grief they both weren't ready to process.

"It's gonna take a minute," Smartt told the boy, "but it'll get there."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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