Microphones hanging from the ceiling partially obscure the face of Jadien Harvey, 2, who was beaten to death July 11, 2012, by his mother’s boyfriend, Kemra Matthew. The photo was shown to jurors during closing statements Thursday afternoon in Clayton County Superior Court. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — The father of a toddler beaten to death in July 2012 said his family can sleep again after the accused killer was convicted on all charges Friday morning.
Kemra Nesta Matthew, 31, shook his head slightly as jurors were polled as to their guilty verdicts on the charges against him including murder, aggravated assault and child cruelty. Jurors believed Matthew beat to death Jadien Harvey, 2, and seriously injured his older brother, Ashton Capers, then 4, in a fit of rage. Prosecutors said Capers barely survived his injuries.
Chief Judge Deborah Benefield set sentencing for March 28 at the request of Matthew’s attorney. He faces a mandatory minimum life in prison with the possibility of parole and a maximum of life without parole, plus a number of years on the other charges.
Capers and three siblings, including Jadien’s twin brother, Jaylin, are in the custody of their maternal grandmother, Shannon Evans Harvey. The children call her “YaYa.” Their mother, Ashley Harvey, worked overnight and wasn’t in the courtroom for the 9:45 a.m. announcement of the verdict.
Shannon Harvey sobbed openly and repeated, “Thank you, Jesus,” as friends and relatives embraced and comforted her.
“I’m happy,” she said, as she contacted other friends and relatives, including her daughter, to share the news by calls and text.
Gary Stokes, the father of the twins, echoed her sentiments and thanked the Clayton County Police Department and District Attorney’s Office for their efforts.
“My family can sleep now, the decision is great,” he said. “We won’t have to go through this hardship. Once the boys get older, we can tell them exactly what happened and who did this to their brother. There is no uncertainty.”
His sister, Tanisha Stokes, and girlfriend Deandra McGraw were with him.
“We’re going to have a family celebration,” said Tanisha Stokes. “But both my nephews suffered so much at his hands. Jaylin is doing good, his grandma is working with him.”
Cheryl Smith, “Nana” to Harvey’s grandchildren, said she was “elated.”
Clayton County prosecutors Kathryn Powers and Travis Meyer brought the case against Matthew, who was represented by Ashley Palmer of the public defender’s office.
“We felt the evidence was clear and once the jury had time to sort it through, I felt they would come to this decision,” said Powers.
Meyer said he was glad jurors saw the facts as presented.
“I’m happy the jury was able to see the facts for what they were and that was catastrophic injuries to a 2-year-old and 4-year-old child,” he said. “This is something that never should have happened. District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson and all the folks in her office are happy justice was served once again and he won’t be around any other children.”
Powers brought jurors and spectators to tears Thursday during her closing statement as she listed milestones Jadien Harvey will never reach. She displayed a photo of a smiling Jadien next to his dates of birth and death separated by a dash.
“That dash between the dates defines us,” she said. “It represents what he’ll never experience, things he does not get to enjoy because that man 20 feet from you took them away.”
Powers went on to verbalize what Jadien might have said to his grandmother as he grew into adulthood.
“He’ll never get to graduate from high school,” she said. “He’ll never get to say, ‘Hey, Grandma, I met the most beautiful girl.’ He’ll never get to say to her, ‘She said yes, we’re getting married.’ He’ll never get to tell her, ‘Hey, Grandma, Jaylin is going to be my best man.’ He’ll never get to say, ‘Hey, Grandma, she’s pregnant and it’s twins just like me.’”
Relatives of the toddler sobbed and left the courtroom during the presentation, which capped a powerful re-telling of the testimony and evidence presented by Powers and Meyer.
“Jadien can’t climb up into the witness chair and breathe life into this microphone,” said Powers. “Because the defendant took it from him. But his body can, his injuries can. His body is trying to tell the story of what happened to him. Listen to it.”
Jadien and his siblings lived with their mother and Matthew at an apartment complex in Jonesboro in July 2012. Both worked and used a baby-sitter when their schedules didn’t allow one of them to watch the kids, according to testimony.
Matthew told police that the day Jadien died, the children were with him part of the day and with the baby-sitter part of the day. He told police and the baby-sitter testified that when he picked up the kids to return home, Jadien walked along with this brothers.
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Jadien testified that the child wouldn’t have been able to walk, talk, eat, stand or play normally immediately after the injuries were inflicted. Matthew made an outcry for help less than two hours after getting home with the children, according to testimony. There was no evidence that anyone else had contact with the boys to that point.
“Even by his own timeline, he’s the only one,” she said. “He’s it. He’s the one with the opportunity. He created fear to the point those little boys sat like ducks in a row at grandma’s house, at YaYa’s house.”
Powers pointed out that quiet inactivity isn’t usual for kids that age visiting their grandmother. Matthew reportedly told Shannon Harvey the boys were under his control because, “I got it like this.”
“You all know that Grandma’s house is a fun place,” Powers told jurors. “That’s where you get the extra cookies, but don’t tell Mom. That’s where you get to stay up late, but don’t tell Mom. You all know that. You know where was no place for fun? Any place the defendant is. He created fear.”
Capers testified Tuesday that “Kam,” the boys’ nickname for Matthew, hit him in the stomach. The boy underwent emergency surgery for the injuries the day his brother died.
Capers lived for a few months with his father before July 2012 and went to stay with Shannon Harvey rather than return home.
“Where does he go to live? To YaYa’s house,” said Powers. “Because he was afraid.”
The family was under investigation for suspicion of physical abuse by Clayton County Department of Family and Children’s Services at the time of Jadien’s death and even abruptly moved from one apartment complex to another without notifying their case worker, according to testimony.
“They moved to run from DFACS,” Powers said.
But Palmer said during her closing statement that he is innocent and had no motive to hurt the boys.
“There is no evidence,” said Palmer. “His behavior is not one to beat up on children. He took care of them. You’ve got a grandma who didn’t like him, a daddy (Stokes) who didn’t like him. It’s your duty to acquit if you have any doubts in your mind.”
Powers agreed that motive isn’t an issue.
“We don’t have to prove a motive because there is no good reason for murder,” she said. “You don’t have to decide if he intended to kill him. The defendant is a monster.”