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Guilty verdict in bizarre attempted murder plot

By Matt Bean
Court TV

Tonica Jenkins, right, with her mother and co-defendant, Tonica Clement, looks on as the jury's verdict is read in court.
Tonica Jenkins, right, with her mother and co-defendant, Tonica Clement, looks on as the jury's verdict is read in court.

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(Court TV) -- An East Cleveland woman accused of trying to kill another woman to fake her own death was found guilty of attempted aggravated murder Tuesday and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"You committed in my view the worst form of attempted aggravated murder," said Judge Lillian J. Greene to Tonica Jenkins, 27, whom she labeled a "narcissistic predator." Greene ordered Jenkins to serve her sentence consecutively with an existing 24-year sentence on federal drug charges. Jenkins declined to speak at her sentencing.

Jenkins' victim, Melissa Latham, made a brief statement, telling Jenkins she deserved strict punishment for the April 21, 2001, assault she narrowly escaped.  "No time you guys can give Tonica today can make up for what she did to me," Latham told the court.

Prosecutors claimed that Jenkins and her cousin, Kyle Martin, tried to murder Latham in the basement of an East Cleveland home.

Jenkins was due to stand trial on drug charges in Florida two days after the assault.  Prosecutors said she sought to avoid that trial with a scheme to pay Latham to file dental records under her name, then kill her and burn her body — leaving the crossed dental records as the only identifying characteristics.

Jenkins was convicted of six counts in all. One juror interviewed said that the more serious charges — attempted aggravated murder, kidnapping, conspiracy, and felonious assault—were the easiest to decide. "The ones that we had more trouble with were tampering of evidence," juror Nathan Keron said.

Jurors deliberated about four and a half hours before reaching a verdict. They were not told during the trial of Jenkins' previous high-publicity brush with the law in 1997, when she was found to have forged transcripts and letters of recommendation to gain admittance to a Yale graduate program. She was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to return more than $16,000 in aid for the offense.

In 2000, Jenkins and her mother, Tonica Clement, purchased 22 pounds of cocaine from an undercover agent in Tampa, Florida. Jenkins is currently serving a 22-year sentence for that offense. Her mother is serving a 14-year sentence.

The week-long trial was truly a family affair. In a joined proceeding, Tonica Clement was also tried alongside her daughter for an obstruction of justice charge. The jury agreed with prosecutors, finding her guilty of cleaning up the bloody basement where Latham was beaten. She was sentenced to time served by Judge Lillian J. Greene.

And Kyle Martin, Jenkins' cousin, appeared but refused to testify.  Martin has already been tried for his role in the assault, and was convicted only of kidnapping Latham.  He is serving a 10-year sentence.

In handing Jenkins a 20-year sentence, Judge Greene avoided slapping her with the maximum time of 38 years. But in ordering Jenkins to serve the time consecutively with her existing federal sentence, Greene ensured that Jenkins will not soon be free.

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