To the outside world, Aaron Dakota Biddle is remembered by the violent behavior from the last day of his life in May. But as his shooter's case moves through Hamilton County's justice system, his mother wants people to understand that her son was more than a court case.
Public defenders called Biddle "an enraged madman" for pushing into his ex-girlfriend Dekierra Brooks' duplex in May and attacking her ex-boyfriend, Jadarius Knox, who was there watching their child and playing video games before work.
A judge referred to Biddle, 21, as the "instigator" of events that ultimately led to Knox shooting him once in the face outside of the Basswood Drive address.
In an interview with law enforcement, Knox, 24, said he never fought back with Biddle, who was unarmed, but wanted to kill him. A bleeding Knox said he ran outside with a pistol that he'd kept beside him on the couch, cocked it and fired one round when Biddle stepped out a few moments later with his Xbox gaming system.
Daryl Slaughter, a detective with the Chattanooga Police Department, said he charged Knox with criminal homicide because nothing suggested Biddle was a threat once outside. According to initial court testimony, Biddle appeared to step back once he saw the gun and asked if Knox was going to shoot.
General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes kept Knox's bond at $750,000 for that reason, and then Criminal Court Judge Don Poole reduced it to $200,000 in September. On Oct. 22, Poole reduced it to $10,000 after Knox's charge came out of the grand jury as voluntary manslaughter, as opposed to something more premeditated, and his defenders called for a second hearing.
In a third-floor apartment off Hixson Pike, 39-year-old Samantha Baltazar has struggled for the last five months to comprehend all of this. She understands her son picked a fight, but she doesn't believe he had to die because of it. Baltazar said her son was flawed but working hard to overcome a life of pain, and he wanted to go places. Similar to Knox, he worked at a restaurant and grew up without a father figure present, according to records and interviews.
"I co-signed for him a car on a Monday. He was killed on a Saturday. He had a Chrysler 200," Baltazar said. "He was so happy because he had saved up all that money to make a down payment. He was excited about making his first car payment, and my child didn't have his first car for a week."
Baltazar and other friends say Biddle was passionate about writing and producing hip-hop music.
"When we were little, maybe 12, he came with me and my family to Florida and stayed in a resort hotel. Back then, he was even writing lyrics the whole way down," said Gabriel Farquharson, 21. "He lived right beside me for so many years. I saw him every day in school. That was my best friend."
Baltazar added that while they were together, Biddle watched one of Brooks' two children while she was at work so she wouldn't have to pay for daycare. Brooks could not be reached for comment at a phone number listed on court documents.
Prosecutors who brought charges against Brooks declined to comment, citing a pending case. Knox's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Mike Little, maintained Friday the facts "do not support premeditation" on his client's part.
Knox, who posted bail Monday and is out of custody, next appears in court Nov. 14.
Moving forward, Baltazar said her primary motivation is to tell her son's side of the story — since he's no longer here to do it.
At age 16, Baltazar gave birth to Biddle on Nov. 12, 1996. Though he was a happy baby, for the most part, Baltazar said, she raised him alone. In an email, Biddle's father, Ray Durham, 44, of Hixson, chalked his son's death up to modern fights being settled with guns instead of fists.
Biddle found a companion, Baltazar said, in her father, Timothy, a crane operator who broke his alcoholism in order to spend time with his grandson.
"My dad would get up real early and Dakota would go with him to Walmart and to the gas station to get coffee," she said. "It made Dakota happy. Every day he would come home, my dad would say, 'What are you supposed to do?' He would say, 'Be good to my mama and do well in school.'"
But when his grandfather died when Dakota was 8, he struggled to recover. After graduating from Red Bank Elementary School and Red Bank Middle School, Biddle dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade.
Through it all, Biddle channeled his life into music using his "YaYo" persona. In one song, "Savage My Life," Biddle rapped about losing his father and grandfather, about his mother kicking him out at age 16, about dropping out of school and trying to move beyond the pain.
Baltazar said her son met Brooks in the summer of 2017 through a mutual friend who worked at the same Walmart. When she needed a place to stay, Baltazar said, Biddle asked if she could move in with them. That meant her children, too, including her and Knox's child at times, Baltazar said.
It wasn't always smooth sailing, Baltazar said. Before they found their own place later that fall, Baltazar said she heard Biddle and Brooks arguing in a bedroom, opened the door, and saw Biddle with a red mark on his stomach. "Tell her to stop hitting me," she recalled her son saying.
According to Brooks' testimony in court, Biddle hit her in the head in April during an argument. She said that wasn't the only reason she asked him to move out — she testified that she hadn't been happy for a while.
When Biddle sent a threatening text message in the weeks before his death, Baltazar said that wasn't a side of her son she recognized. For months, Biddle had worked every day at Burger King on Ringgold Road from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. trying to provide, she said. And he had possessions in the duplex that he wanted back, too. According to court testimony, Brooks allowed Biddle to come over that afternoon and started handing bags to him through the door. When Biddle noticed Knox on the couch, he barged inside and grew hostile, defenders said.
In her home, surrounded by framed, movie-poster-sized pictures of her son, by memories of the time her son was forced to cut his long, curly hair for her wedding, by old football pictures of a stockier Biddle, Baltazar wished for the what ifs. What if her son had gone over when Knox wasn't there? What if Knox didn't have that gun?
For both families comes the hard part.
Knox faces three to six years in prison if convicted on his voluntary manslaughter charge, a Class C felony. Baltazar, meanwhile, will never get her son back. The hospice worker said she's been on antidepressants, as has her 15-year-old daughter, a good student who now struggles most days to get out of bed and go to school.
"For [Dakota's] birthday [on Nov. 12], we're going to do a butterfly release at my dad's grave — 22 of them for his birthday," Baltazar said. "And we're going to eat lasagna and cookie cake, because that's his favorite food, that's what he wanted every year."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.