The hail of bullets had finally stopped. Tanyika Smith, hiding in a bathtub, her baby cradled in her arms, looked down at 9-month-old KenDarious, who smiled back, briefly.
“Then I saw the blood coming out of his nose,” said the young mother, fighting through tears. “I saw the hole in the back of his shirt. I said, ‘Mama, they’ve killed Baby June.’”
KenDarious Edwards’ killer, Devin Thomas sat, head bowed, just 10 feet away from Smith as she spoke Monday in DeKalb County Superior Court, recalling her only child’s final moments. Thomas, 20, avoided a potential death sentence by pleading guilty to the baby’s murder.
“The last thing I said was, ‘I love you,’ and I gave him a kiss,” Smith said. “I had planned my whole life around him. You took my whole life away from me,” she said to Thomas.
Prosecutors said KenDarious’ death, on the eve of Mother’s Day 2014, was in retaliation for the brutal assault of Thomas’ friend and fellow Bloods gangster Alexis Malone, 17.
Malone had gotten into a fight with another woman at a Stone Mountain apartment complex where a group had gathered to watch boxer Floyd Mayweather defend his title. Oslushla Smith and fellow Bloods stepped in to assist her, eventually opening fire and killing an innocent bystander, 29-year-old Michael Phillips.
Days later, according to prosecutors, Smith grew concerned that Malone was talking to the cops. He lured her to some woods and beat her with a rock.
Thomas and Marco Watson, 36, exacted revenge by targeting Smith’s relatives, including his nephew, KenDarious, said DeKalb County Deputy Chief District Attorney Anna Cross. Smith was convicted in May of killing Malone and Michael Phillips, 29.
Watson is still awaiting trial for his role in the baby’s death. DeKalb District Attorney Robert James said recently he will be asking for life without parole for Watson, charged with murder, aggravated assault and violating the state’s anti-gang law.
“Because of the egregious nature of this senseless crime, my office had no choice but to seek the death penalty regarding the death of an innocent baby,” the district attorney said in a statement. But in exchange for his guilty plea, Thomas was sentenced Monday to life plus 20 years.
Some of KenDarious’ surviving relatives said they believe Thomas deserved to die.
“Do you sleep good at night? Because I don’t,” said Teniqua Clark, a friend of Smith’s who was in the house near Stone Mountain when Thomas and Watson broke in through the back door.
Clark broke down after recalling the image of her “best friend holding her lifeless baby.”
It is unknown whether the plea deal reached with Thomas might have ramifications beyond this case.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Nicole Golden said she could not disclose specifics because of Watson’s pending case, adding, “This is reflective of the gang problem we have in DeKalb.”
Thomas wrestled with his own emotions during Monday’s hearing, holding back tears as his victims told of the destruction he had wrought.
“You’re a monster,” said Tracy Smith, KenDarious’ grandmother. “I couldn’t protect my family from you. You took my grandbaby from me, my first grandson. Your parents got to see your first day of school. I won’t get to do that because of you.”
Tracy Smith, Clark and Tanyika Smith survived multiple gunshots fired during the home invasion. Tanyika Smith was hit eight times. One bullet lodged in her face, leaving lasting damage to her vision and sense of smell and taste.
Before he was led off to prison, Thomas turned to KenDarious’ family and asked for forgiveness.
“We can’t bring no one back here,” he said. “I know what I did was wrong.”
Tanyika Smith replied, softly, “Thank you.”
But later, she said the apology didn’t bring the relief she’d hoped it would.
“He’ll never feel this hurt, this pain,” she said.
Photographs and videos of her infant son — who took his first steps a week before he was slain — aren’t enough.
“I wanna see June again,” she said. “I wanna hug my baby and kiss him.”
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