Holding her granddaughter close to her side, Brenda Smith Sledge stood before her daughter’s killer this morning to tell him how much her family had lost.
“Shawn knew our family. He know how close we were,” she said. “This is horrific.” Her words broken by sobs.
Sledge’s daughter, Tawanna Barnes-Copeland, was brutally stabbed to death early in the morning of Dec. 7, 2010. She had injured her leg at work the night before and was placed in a cast and sent home. She called her ex-boyfriend, Shawn Davis, to help her fill a prescription for pain medication.
Instead of coming to her aid, Davis stabbed her with a kitchen knife, killing her in her bed. He then arranged the Southwest DC to look like a break-in had occurred and went to work.
Detectives found him by tracking Barnes-Copeland’s cell phone, which he took from her.
Davis pled guilty to second-degree murder in November 2011, two months after being indicted on a charge of first-degree murder. He was sentenced today to 18 years in prison.
He had few words on Friday for Barnes-Copeland’s family.
“I’m really sorry, It was uncalled for,” he said simply. “I take responsibility. I was wrong.”
The sadness of Barnes-Copeland’s family inside the courtroom was palpable during sentencing, and Prosecutor Chris Kavanaugh broke down, having to pause and collect himself, while making his final arguments for a lengthy prison term.
Judge Gerald Fisher called the government’s request for an 18 year sentence “generous.”
“This is too tragic for words,” Fisher said. “His conduct was so extreme there is nothing for me other than the top sentence.”
While the case would have been tried as first-degree murder charge with a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison, prosecutors and detectives said the plea to second-degree murder was still appropriate. The case, while strong, was circumstantial, they said. Fisher said that the plea spared the family from having to go through what would have been a “gruesome” trial.
The family’s sadness inside the courtroom was countered shortly after sentencing by a sense of relief and gratitude that, while the family was gathered, permeated the hallway outside courtroom 312.
“Thank God this is a solved murder. It’s solved and we’re satisfied with this time,” said Sledge. Hugging detective Gus Giannakoulis, she said, “I’ve never worked with so many wonderful people.”