Convicted child killer Kemra Matthew listens as his mother pleads for mercy in his case Friday morning. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — Shannon Evans Harvey, “Ya Ya” to her grandchildren, emotionally ticked off a listing of things that are “gone forever” with the death of her grandson, 2, inside a “house of horrors.”
“His smiles are gone forever,” she said, barely able to speak through tears. “The twinkle in his eyes is erased forever. Hugs are gone forever. ‘I love you, Ya Ya,’ is gone forever. Jadien is gone forever.”
Most of Harvey’s family and friends sobbed through her testimony during Friday’s sentencing hearing for the man convicted of beating to death Jadien Harvey in July 2012. Kemra Nesta Matthew was convicted March 14 on all charges, including murder, in the toddler’s death and beating of his brother, Ashton Capers, then 4.
Matthew will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for the beatings.
Matthew was the live-in boyfriend of the child’s mother, Ashley Harvey, and the father of her son, KJ, at the time of the beating. Harvey, who did not testify during the hearing, was pregnant at the time and has since given birth to Matthew’s daughter, Kayla.
Shannon Harvey has custody of all of Ashley Harvey’s children. She talked about the paradox of raising the children of the man who killed their half-sibling and almost killed a second one.
“How do I explain to KJ and Kayla that their father killed their brother?” she said. “How do I teach Ashton to not hate and not hold a grudge but to forgive? How do I teach him to not blame KJ and Kayla for what their father did?”
Harvey said Matthew left a “disgusting stain” on her family.
“He has thoroughly tested my faith and wrecked my finances,” she said. “I can’t sleep. If I’m not up with one of the kids, I’m thinking about Jadien. Mr. Matthew even tried to ruin my relationship with my daughter.”
Gary Stokes, the father of Jadien and his twin brother, Jaylin, also testified, asking for the maximum punishment.
“We forgive Mr. Matthew,” said Stokes. “We have no choice but to forgive him but we do ask for the maximum amount of time allowed by law.”
By contrast, Matthew’s mother, Heather Greenaway, took the stand in her son’s defense and just as emotionally denied his guilt.
“He took care of those kids,” she said. “He put food on the table, a roof over their heads. He’d come to me and tell me all the bills are paid and there’s nothing left. He’d beg his family for bus fare. He’d tell us that there’s no food in the house. He’d borrow money to feed the kids, pay it back and borrow it again.”
Greenaway asked Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield for mercy.
“My son is not a murderer,” she said. “He is a good father. He loved those kids and took them in as his own. I’ve lost a son. My family hasn’t seen their brother in two years. He hasn’t seen his children in over a year. His only daughter, he’s never touched her or laid eyes on her. Kemra suffered too. He’s lost his children, KJ and Kayla.”
Greenaway said Matthew is guilty only of being a good provider.
“He took care of that family when no one else wanted them,” she said. “He’s guilty of being a good son. He’s guilty of taking care of this family. He gave all he had to this family.”
Public defender Ashley Palmer asked for life with the possibility of parole. When Matthew addressed he court, he never mentioned the loss of life. Rather, he said he loved his family and his children.
Clayton County prosecutor Kathryn Powers asked for life without parole but had little else to say.
“Quite frankly, as I stand here, I don’t think I could have said it better than Ms. Harvey,” said Powers, who became uncharacteristically emotional.
Benefield, too, seemed to choke on the words she delivered before she imposed the sentence.
“This is an awful case, an awful case,” she said. “I think it is very telling that the children’s own mother isn’t testifying at sentencing and took no responsibility or showed remorse. She closed her eyes to what was happening in the home.”
Although child protective services was involved with the family and several relatives expressed concern, Benefield said not enough was done to protect the children.
“That definitely gave him the means and opportunity to do what he did,” she said. “He used and abused these children and a baby is dead as a result. By his own words, they didn’t carry his name. By his own words, he’s ‘got this’ in terms of what to do with a child.”
Benefield described the Matthew-Harvey home as being a “house of horrors.”
“They were living in a house of horrors where you can’t have fun or be loud,” she said. “You can’t do anything without being hit and thrown against a wall and harmed in the way the jury found. And the defendant won’t acknowledge his role, there’s no remorse, no responsibility. There’s no real justice. You can’t bring back a life.”
Powers said she is pleased Matthew will never again hurt a child.
“We’re very pleased with the sentence,” she said. “I think the house of horrors has come to an end.”