Victim Services, VAC
July-August 2022

Walking a family through tragedy

By Ebonie Daniels
Victim Assistance Coordinator in Wichita County

Every child looks forward to winter break from school: Christmas, presents, no school for two weeks—it’s perfect.

            For the Redmond children, though, the winter break of 2019 was anything but perfect. A family once whole was irrevocably broken because on that day, a son, a brother, and a child only 4 years old, Christian, was needlessly killed in a rollover car crash. (You can read an account of the trial by our elected Criminal District Attorney John Gillespie starting on the front cover of this journal.)

The day of Christian’s death

December 20, 2019, was the last day of school for Christian, Jadin (7 years old), and Zaydin (6) Redmond before winter break. Their sister, Maya (5), was home sick with their baby brother, Kaydin (1 year old), and their mother, Tyneshia Chatman. Ms. Chatman’s friend Migel Matthew was at the house as well. The adults had been drinking alcohol to celebrate Christmas since the morning hours.

            Ms. Chatman had to pick up her children from school and needed a ride from Ms. Matthew. The two women, Maya, and Kaydin got into Matthew’s sedan. Not only were the adults intoxicated, but there were also no car seats in the vehicle. Matthew drove them to pick up Christian, Jadin, and Zaydin, and instead of dropping the children off at home, Matthew decided to pick up her daughter across town. None of the children wore seatbelts. On the highway, she rounded a 55-mph curve at over 100 mph, and the car flipped several times—all five children were ejected from the vehicle. Only 4 years old, Christian lost his life that day. Miraculously the rest of the children went to the hospital with only minor injuries, but all their lives were forever changed.

            I learned of this case in early 2020 before I even began working at the Wichita County Criminal District Attorney’s Office—I read about the crash in a news article.  My first thought was why? Why be so reckless and careless? My heart went out to those children.

            Once I started at the DA’s Office in August 2020, I learned more about the case after reading my predecessor’s notes and files. I then read the police report. I have four children and three siblings, and this case hit me hard. It’s unfathomable to lose a son, daughter, brother, or sister.

            The children were removed from the home after Ms. Chatman was arrested in May 2020 on felony murder charges in relation to the crash. Their father, Christopher Redmond, had to take parenting classes before he was able to get the children back. These children obviously had gone through a lot in less than a year, and it was important for me to make contact as soon as possible.

Victim contact

I called Mr. Redmond to convey my condolences and to let him know that I was the new victim assistance coordinator (VAC) on the case. We discussed the case and the resources available to him and the children. Mr. Redmond previously applied to the Crime Victims’ Compensation (CVC) program to pay for ambulance and hospital services, but the medical bills had not been paid. I followed up with CVC and re-sent the bills and insurance verification.

            I also followed up with Mr. Redmond about funeral expenses, which had been paid through donations and out of his pocket. I informed him that CVC also covers funeral expenses. I contacted the funeral home to get the receipt and forwarded it to CVC. I told Mr. Redmond what was needed regarding the bills, but he never followed through. This is pretty common with CVC benefits, especially if a victim needs to contact various medical facilities, which Mr. Redmond had needed to do. I keep track of victims’ claims through the CVC portal and try to follow up weekly. In most cases I contact medical facilities to get all the needed information but sometimes due to HIPAA regulations, I am unable to get everything. 

            It was difficult to assist Mr. Redmond with victim services. He wanted his wife freed and felt that she should not face criminal charges for her role in Christian’s death. He called me numerous times demanding that charges be dismissed or bond reduced. His moods changed frequently. Some days he was cooperative with me, and other days he would lash out or refuse to talk to me. When that happened, I would give him some time and then follow up with him. I made sure to check in about the children to ensure they were in therapy. He informed me they were seeing the school counselor. Mr. Redmond was in grief counseling as well.

            Almost a year after I initially met him, Mr. Redmond was charged with DWI with a child passenger. Although his children were with him during the incident, Child Protective Services (CPS) did not take them away, and his arrest did not impede my communication with him. I stayed in contact more than ever to ensure that the children were receiving counseling and to provide anything else they might have needed.

            A couple of months after Mr. Redmond’s arrest, his wife, Ms. Chatman, took a plea for manslaughter for her part in the crash. As part of the agreement, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Mr. Redmond was very upset about the sentence and told me we were taking his children’s mother away. Ultimately, I let him vent his feelings and I gave him space afterwards.

            After giving Mr. Redmond some time, I contacted him about completing a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) for Ms. Matthew’s upcoming felony murder case. We previously discussed his VIS for his wife’s case, but he did not want to complete one for it. I advised him to write from his heart and to really detail how Christian’s death affected the entire family. It took him a few months to complete the VIS as it was very hard for him to even think about Christian.

The trial

Leading up to the trial, District Attorney John Gillespie, Executive Prosecutor Misty King, Investigator Jonny Zellner, and I went to Booker T. Washington Elementary to interview Jadin, Maya, and Zaydin for trial prep. We had discussed with the principal that the school would be the best place to conduct the interviews. We went over the crash with each child individually, and Mr. Redmond was also present. The kids were nervous at first but were able to recount the crash pretty well. I gave each of them a challenge coin with our office seal as a souvenir, which is our normal practice with child victims and witnesses before trial or after interviews.

            The trial was scheduled for the week of April 18, 2022. During jury selection, I stayed in the office and remained in contact with Mr. Redmond to let him know when the children would be needed to testify. Jadin, Maya, and Zaydin came in on the afternoon of the second day of trial. (At the time of the crash, Kaydin was a baby so he did not testify.) Mr. Redmond and the children stayed in our conference room until it was time for them to enter the courtroom. I made sure the children had snacks and water. They colored and we talked about school and the activities they liked. I then took them to the 78th District Court’s witness room.

            Before testifying, Mr. Redmond asked the children if they wanted him in the courtroom while they were on the stand. Maya and Zaydin did not, but Jadin wanted him there. I brought Maya into the courtroom to testify first. Right before she began her testimony, Mr. Redmond wanted to speak to me. He was very agitated and on the verge of tears. He told me he wanted to be in the courtroom with his child. I told him he could absolutely watch Maya testify, but I reminded him that Maya did not want him in the courtroom while she was testifying. I asked him if he could respect her wishes. He agreed to stay in the witness room.

             I reminded Mr. Redmond of Maya’s wishes because I did not want her to freeze up during her testimony. Understandably, Mr. Redmond wanted justice for the death of his son and for the hurt and pain caused to his other children, but I did not want Maya to feel pressure from his expectations of her. Also, he was very emotional, which could have affected her.

            After Maya, Zaydin testified and then Jadin. Each child elected to not have Mr. Redmond in the courtroom. The children did well on the stand. The jury was able to get a glimpse of their personalities and the pain they went through from the wreck and losing their young brother.

            After their testimonies, Mr. Redmond took the children home. Matthew was eventually convicted of felony murder, and I informed Mr. Redmond of the verdict. During the punishment phase, Mr. Redmond listened to closing arguments in the courtroom gallery. He was crying during Mr. Gillespie’s closing argument, and I sat near him to lend my support. Matthew received a sentence of 60 years. After the jury was dismissed, I read Mr. Redmond’s Victim Impact Statement in court at his request. I read about how his life and his surviving children’s lives were forever changed, but they had to keep on living.

Conclusion

Because my involvement in this case spanned nearly two years, there were many lessons that I implement even today. The case was ongoing during the height of COVID-19, and the CVC staff were working remotely. I discovered the fastest and most efficient way to submit applications and supporting documents was online and through fax. CVC usually sends letters to claimants and medical facilities for the documents CVC needs, and I found out that calling CVC to ask what was needed and informing the claimant and service providers decreased processing time significantly. I urge all VACs to sign up for Presumptive Eligibility Certification, which offers a streamlined application process for compensation.[1]

            Although I have been a VAC for some time, this was a devastating case. I remember driving on that same highway picking up my children around the time of the wreck in 2019. Watching the children testify was memorable—describing the crash and how they witnessed their little brother’s death was heart-wrenching. I am in awe of their strength and resilience—they are still able to smile and enjoy life. As their father said in his VIS, his other children constantly remind him that they will be all right. Some cases stay with a person, and I believe this one will stay with me. I think of Christian every time I drive around that curve on the highway. I am pleased that the jury made the right decision in Matthew’s conviction and punishment, and I am honored to work with a team who fights to see justice done.

Endnote


[1]  You can obtain Presumptive Eligibility Certification for Crime Victims’ Compensation via Zoom training sessions by contacting the Office of the Attorney General Crime Victims’ Compensation Training Coordinator, Gloria Clark, at  [email protected]