CONYERS — Della Frazier can’t quite reconcile the images of the two loving, vivacious twin girls she raised with the two young women who pleaded guilty to killing their mother earlier this year.
Frazier, 81, raised great-granddaughters Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead from infancy to their teen years when they went to live with their mother in Conyers. That change in their living arrangement resulted in a tumultuous relationship that ultimately led to the stabbing death of Jarmecca “Nikki” Whitehead in January 2010 when the twins were 16 years old.
Despite all that’s been written and televised about the twins’ case, Frazier said she doesn’t believe their story has been fully told. She makes no excuses for the twins, but she said she would like people to have a clearer picture of their lives.
“I think that a lot of people did not really know them and the people who did know them, know the story of how they grew up,” she said.
Frazier spoke this week to the Citizen about the two girls she knows as loving, thoughtful, intelligent young women, saying she hopes that, in some way, talking about the girls’ lives will help persuade authorities that they should not be kept behind bars for 30 years.
As Frazier recounts the 13 years that she spent raising the twins, it’s clear that she was the most constant, stable influence in their lives. It’s a role that was familiar to Frazier, who said her own mother had a nervous breakdown when she was 12. Frazier raised two daughters and a son of her own and went on to provide a home for grandaughter Nikki when Frazier’s daughter, Lynda Whitehead, was unable to care for her as a baby.
In 1993, when the twins were born, Frazier said Nikki, 18 at the time, had left home and was not prepared to be a mother. Frazier said Nikki and the babies initially came home to live with her. Nikki later moved to Conyers with her boyfriend, but the girls stayed with their great-grandmother.
“Nikki was a person who liked to go, and she stayed gone all the time … ,” said Frazier. “And she got in the wrong lifestyle, she started doing drugs and drinking and got in with the wrong people.”
During those years, Frazier said she and her husband, who died in 2009, stayed busy raising the twins. There were tennis lessons, music lessons, ballet lessons. Frazier said she supported the twins with little help from Nikki, who was a random presence.
“I was still raising her — and her children,” Frazier said.
Despite working fulltime at the Coca-Cola Company and later at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Frazier said she enjoyed the role of caregiver for the twins, and they were happy and well-behaved in her home.
“The girls were always respectful, good girls, smart …” she said.
Their lives changed in 2007, Frazier said, when Nikki decided she wanted the girls — then 13 — to live with her and her boyfriend in Conyers. Frazier said she believes Nikki’s mother, Lynda, put pressure on Nikki to reclaim her children, possibly due to her own regrets for not having raised Nikki.
“That’s when I believe all the trouble for them started,” Frazier said.
The next several years were turbulent for the girls. According to information provided at their sentencings earlier this year, the girls became rebellious. Their mother apparently believed they were using drugs and had become sexually active. The girls saw their mother’s attempts to control them as hypocritical because of her own lifestyle.
To complicate the situation, Frazier said a sort of intergenerational power struggle developed over who should be parenting the girls, with Lynda Whitehead encouraging Nikki to keep the girls away from Frazier.
According to court records, the relationship between Frazier and Nikki became strained, with Nikki believing that Frazier overstepped her bounds with the girls.
Frazier said she tried to stay away and let the three of them build a relationship, but Nikki too frequently left the girls alone or let them hang out at the mall unsupervised. The girls would sometimes call her to come to their rescue when their mother was unavailable, she said.
After a physical fight with their mother in 2008, the girls were charged with juvenile offenses and were in and out of Juvenile Court over the next couple of years. The twins, Frazier and Nikki all underwent court-ordered counseling. Frazier said they saw six different counselors over the course of that time. At least one counselor found that the family “thrives on chaos” and that all of the adults “have failed” to control the situation, according to court records. The girls returned to Frazier’s home, but a counselor found that giving custody to Frazier “swapped one situation for another,” and the twins were returned to their mother’s custody on Jan. 5, 2010. The girls were distraught at that decision, Frazier said.
“They begged and pleaded with the judge not to send them back there,” Frazier said. “They cried and screamed.”
Frazier said the girls were told to “see how it goes” for two weeks; a status conference was set for Jan. 19.
“So they went and one week after that, Jan. 13, is when (Nikki) was killed,” Frazier said.
Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah each pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of their mother. Tasmiyah is being held at the Pulaski State Prison in Hawkinsville, while Jasmiyah is at the Arrendale State Prison in Alto. Frazier said the girls hope to be together at the same facility in the near future.
Just as when they were younger, Frazier said she continues to care for the girls. She visits each girl regularly, corresponds frequently, and provides money and other items when needed. She recently attended a family day program at Pulaski State Prison and will do the same at Arrendale soon.
Frazier said both girls have earned their GEDs. Tasmiyah is taking computer tech courses, while Jasmiyah is studying in the medical field. Frazier said these are the girls she knows.
“I see in them what I’ve always seen — they were always loving and wanted to excel in what they did,” Frazier said.
While she acknowledges that the twins will likely be in prison for many years, Frazier said she’s never talked to them about their crimes and they’ve never confessed to her what they did.
“I can’t see it,” she said. “Something in my heart don’t believe it.”
Frazier said the twins will be eligible for parole in 2017. She’s hoping that they’ll be released then.
“My heart bleeds for their mom and for them,” she said. “I can’t bring Nikki back, but I can hope and pray that God will help them be productive.”
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