Saturday, March 31, 2012

Henrico County, VA: Deaf slaying suspect had also stabbed another woman

A mentally troubled, deaf man charged in Henrico County this week with the stabbing death of his girlfriend had been severely beaten by members of the Bloods street gang in retaliation for a similar knife attack in August 2009 on a female gang member. Darlene R. Babb, 33, a member of the Bloods street gang, was the principal assailant in the beating of Freddie Lee Cephas, who had stabbed her multiple times and later was suspected of setting up a robbery that targeted Babb, according to court records.

Babb was sentenced in September last year to prison for her role in the brutal beating in December 2010 of Cephas, her former boyfriend and the man who had stabbed Babb multiple times in the Highland Park home they then shared. She had refused to cooperate in Cephas' prosecution for the stabbing, leading to a dismissal of charges against him, and the two remained together until sometime around the time Cephas was attacked. He was bound with an electrical cord and repeatedly beaten about the head inside a home on Chamberlayne Avenue in December 2010; he was then transported to Chesterfield County and dumped in a wooded area off Reams Road, his hands and feet still bound.

"It was a miracle he survived," said Ann Cabell Baskervill, an assistant commonwealth's attorney in Richmond who prosecuted Babb and two Bloods accomplices in the attack on Cephas. Babb was convicted of malicious wounding and gang participation, according to court records.

The investigation into the beating established the first hard look by detectives into the G-Shyne Bloods in Richmond, which in the weeks after Cephas' beating began a campaign of murder and retaliation against wayward members and gang pretenders.

Quondell Pringle, a Henrico man who had been selling drugs and falsely claimed Bloods membership, was shot to death in April 2011 off Newbridge Road in eastern Henrico in a case that saw five Bloods members sent to prison, including the reputed gang leader, Merwin Raheme Herbert "Poncho" White.

In May 2011, the gang was behind the execution-style slaying of a man whose body was discovered in Powhatan. The shooter in that case, Joe Lewis Harris III, has been convicted of murder.

"White was the person who ordered the attack on Cephas," Baskerville said. "Because of that case, we had a familiarity with who these gang members were" when the murders in Henrico and Powhatan occurred.

In August 2009, Cephas had held the severely bleeding Babb, who had seven wounds in her left side, at knifepoint and threatened to kill himself if she went to police; he had been angered because she refused to have sex with him, according to court records.

She escaped hours later after persuading Cephas to take her to a local grocery on Fourth Avenue in Highland Park to buy bandages for her wounds.

Cephas, now 37, whose long criminal history has been accompanied by his family's allegations of neglect by mental health and prison officials, sent text messages this week to an aunt, telling her he had stabbed Hazel J. Jackson and that she was dead, according to the aunt and court records.

Henrico police found Jackson's body, with multiple stab wounds to her back, in the bedroom of the rented home where she and Cephas lived just east of the city limits off Osborne Turnpike.

Connie Robinson, Cephas' aunt, said this week that Cephas and Jackson met each other at the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority crisis center several months ago.

Jackson, 53, was a gifted, dedicated former worker for the Urban League of Greater Richmond 25 years ago, according to president Thomas Victory, who is working to collect funds to combat domestic violence in the wake of Jackson's death.

"She was a wonderful person with a beautiful smile and an incredible work ethic," said Victory, who hired Jackson to work for the agency in the mid-1980s. More recently, Jackson had worked with the Federal Aviation Administration, according to Victory.

Jackson had obtained two emergency protective orders against Cephas, in September and October last year. But there is no court record of charges against Cephas in connection with Jackson before the events this week.

"Mr. Cephas held me against my will in my home," Jackson wrote in seeking protection from Cephas on Oct. 12. "He tore my house apart, throwing food all over, dumped trash over my head. … He cut himself and put the blood all over me."

Jackson said Cephas "stated he would burn my house down with me in it if I told anyone what he did or if I tried to leave him."

"Freddie was not taking his medications; I feared for his life and safety," his aunt said this week.

Cephas, whose father was found murdered in the front seat of his car and whose mother died last year, has struggled for years with mental impairments, deafness, criminal behavior and isolation in prison.

"They fill him full of medication and dump him back on the street," said Robinson, referring to corrections and mental-health workers.

The depth of Cephas' difficulty in communicating was evident in a barely coherent letter to a lawyer representing him in November 2009, three months after he had stabbed Babb and faced trial in that case and for probation violations.

"My ex-girlfriend Darlene Babb wilder behavior mean to me for no reason. My ex-girlfriend is aware of my easily anger, made fun of me due my hearing impaired being having a hard times and depression and causing me worst feeling," Cephas wrote.

"My ex-girlfriend got me, she took whole lot of advantaged of my life. If I was not with her, its will never happen to being lock up again."

Cephas is scheduled to undergo a preliminary hearing on the murder charge in Henrico Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in May.

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