Byline: Sue Lindsay Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer
Sixteen-year-old Jennifer Tombs burst into tears Friday as deputies led her away to prison, where she will spend the rest of her life for killing a family friend who baby-sat her last September.
A Denver District Court jury deliberated less than a day before convicting Tombs of first-degree murder in the slaying of Latanya Lavallais, 23, who was shot six times in the head at close range Sept 28.
District Judge Warren Martin immediately imposed the mandatory life prison sentence with no comment from lawyers or family.
Tombs showed no reaction at first as the verdict was read.
Then she began sobbing.
Members of Lavallais’ family stood, cheered and clapped when the guilty verdict was read.
“All right!” said Noreen Wilson, Lavallais’ sister.
Tombs’ mother, Madlyn Tombs, and Lavallais’ stepfather, Errol Vermont, were both pastors at the First Christian Assembly Church in Montbello at the time of the slaying. Vermont is no longer with that church.
Madlyn Tombs arranged for Latanya Lavallais, whom Jennifer regarded as a cousin, to watch her daughter for the weekend while she attended a church retreat.
The tragedy has torn the two families.
“It’s heart-breaking,” said Marie Tombs, Jennifer’s grandmother. “I’m here to support both families.” She said she helped raise both girls since they were infants and loved them both.
“We didn’t win,” Wilson said. “Two lives were lost for nothing. I hope (Tombs) gets the help she needs so no other woman will have to cry the way my mother has cried.”
The mothers of the victim and the defendant both left the courtroom without comment.
“It’s the most cold-blooded murder I’ve ever heard of in 10 years as a prosecutor,” Deputy District Attorney Henry Cooper said. “She shoots her cousin six times in the head and then eats pizza with her friends.”
Cooper said the two families had continued to attend the same church, but relations became strained recently after Madlyn Tombs told her congregation that she purchased new clothes for Jennifer and planned to take a vacation with her after she was cleared of the charges.
“The Lavallais-Vermont family is relieved more than anything to have this over and have some closure, knowing that the person responsible is going to pay the consequences,” Cooper said.
Tombs contended that an intruder killed Lavallais and that she discovered her body in the morning.
But prosecutors said Tombs pumped six bullets into Lavallais’ head because her baby sitter refused to let her go out. Tombs was on an electronic monitor for violating probation on juvenile charges of aggravated car theft at the time of the killing.
Tombs’ ex-boyfriend, Joaquin Johnson, testified that he gave Tombs the gun used to kill Lavallais and said Tombs told him during a 4 a.m. phone call that she had killed a woman who burst into her Montbello home.
In a videotaped statement to police, Tombs admitted getting rid of the murder weapon and picking up shell casings.
Education: Graduated from Montbello High School
Employment: Leasing agent for an apartment complex at the former Lowry Air Force Base.
CAPTION: LATANYA LAVALLAIS.