By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — After hearing the state’s sentence recommendation Friday morning, a Jonesboro man opted for trial and pleaded not guilty to killing his girlfriend’s toddler in July.
Clayton County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers read the facts of the case against Kemra Nesta Matthews into the record in Superior Court. Powers told Chief Judge Deborah Benefield that the state recommendation is life in prison.
After hearing the recommendation, Matthews, 30, pleaded not guilty to felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and four counts each of aggravated battery and child cruelty. A trial date has not been set.
Matthews was baby-sitting Ashley Harvey’s four children while she worked. The youngest, Kemra Matthews Jr., was 9 months old and the only one of the four fathered by the defendant, said Powers. Two of the other three, Ashton Capers, 4, and Jadien Harvey, 2, started vomiting while in Matthews’ care July 11, she said.
Powers said Harvey went to work at 7:45 a.m., leaving her children with Matthews. About 10:30 a.m., he took the four to another apartment for neighbors to baby-sit while he worked part-time for the apartment complex where they all lived, she said. He reportedly told the neighbors, one of whom is also Harvey’s cousin, that Ashton had been throwing up and Jadien defecated on himself.
The women told police later that the boys weren’t acting like themselves and that Jadien was sleepy and not active.
Matthews picked up the boys about noon and they returned home, said Powers. About 5:30 p.m., Matthews took the boys to the complex leasing office looking for someone to perform CPR on Jadien and to call 911 because he was not breathing and was unresponsive, she said.
Jadien was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale where he was pronounced dead. Powers said an autopsy showed the toddler suffered a skull fracture and 10 separate contusions, among other injuries. The medical examiner ruled the manner of death to be homicide.
Doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta performed a medical exam on Ashton Capers. It showed he suffered elevated liver and pancreatic enzymes, a serosal tear in his small intestines, a bruise on his lower back, a spinal compression fracture, a fracture of his left shin bone that showed no signs of healing and a condition that caused his skeletal muscle fibers to rapidly break down.
The doctors reportedly told police that the injuries occurred after the mother left for work that day. She was not charged.
However, Matthews’ defense attorney, Ashley Palmer, said there is reasonable doubt that Matthews hurt the children.
“The children were not continuously in his care,” she said. “And the women who were watching them have previous drug convictions.”
Powers said the family was being investigated by Clayton County Department of Family and Children’s Services and was most recently visited at home by a social worker July 9.
“The police got a call from a non-mandated reporter that the three older children were scared of the defendant and would run in the other room when he came home,” said Powers.
Part of the investigation showed that Matthews tested positive for marijuana and Harvey tested positive for marijuana and cocaine, said Powers.
“Neither [was] arrested and the children were not removed,” she said.
Matthews’ criminal record dates back to 2002 and includes obstruction of an officer, shoplifting, battery and drugs, said Benefield.
Matthews is being held without bond in the Clayton County Jail.