BRADENTON, Fla. (WTSP) There was a plea bargain Wednesday in a case that shocked the Bay Area and made national headlines.
Keishanna Thomas had faced life in prison for murdering her 11 year old daughter in 2015, then stuffing the child’s body in a freezer.
It was a case that exposed weaknesses in the system and changed the way abuse cases are investigated.
In the nearly two years since her daughter’s death, Keishanna Thomas has been silent in court, and at her plea hearing she said little more.
“Yes, your honor,” she told the judge when asked if she understood what she was doing.
With a series of yes and no’s, Thomas, now 33, pleaded guilty to charges she abused and murdered her daughter, Janiya, stuffing the 11-year-old’s body in a freezer, padlocking it shut, and then leaving it at her mother’s house.
With the death penalty already off the table, Thomas faced life in prison.
Just days before her trial date, she took the deal to – in her words – spare her surviving children the pain of testifying.
“I don’t want to put my kids through a trial,” she told the court.
The deal included a reduced charge of second degree murder. Her sentence – 65 years in prison.
“The 65-year sentence effectively places Keishanna Thomas away from the rest of Manatee County and particularly children for the rest of her life,” said prosecutor Arthur Brown.
Janiya’s death also exposed problems in the system.
Seven workers with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s child protective investigation unit were disciplined. Weekly meetings now take place at the sheriff’s office to review high profile cases.
There had also been talk about children like Janiya, who are homeschooled and have a history with the system – receiving extra attention from investigators by conducting welfare checks more frequently.
But nearly two years later, there is still no law mandating it.
“I’m a little disappointed that more didn’t get done at the state level to create guidelines and structure so that something like this doesn’t happen again,” said State Senator Darryl Rouson from St. Petersburg.
As she made her way out of the courtroom, Thomas never looked back at relatives who hoped she’d finally say something. Instead, she maintained the silence that has haunted them for nearly two years.
“She’s trying to probably just get in that mindset let go of life, her children, and going to watch is fixing to deal with,” said a cousin, Wayne Washington, “But, still, it still doesn’t justify her not saying anything to her family or just telling her kids I love them, I’m sorry for what I did.”
Thomas also received a concurrent 15-year sentence for child abuse, and 5 years for abusing a dead body.
Her other children have now been living with a cousin.