Dad mistakes daughter home from school for intruder, shoots her dead
10/05/2017 12:12 pm PDT
A controversial shooting in Tennessee: A 6th-grade girl gets off the bus from school and is gunned down at her home. And who pulled the trigger made it a headline-grabbing case.
A precious 11-year-old girl, full of personality, full of life. But tragically her life was cut short.
Sixth-grader Timea Batts was like most girls her age. She loved playing with makeup. Her favorite color was pink, and she loved to show off for the camera.
In autumn of 2016, Timea was excited about starting a new school year at a new school.
"They had spent all day out shopping for school supplies," said criminal defense attorney Joy Kimbrough.
The sixth-grader was dressed to impress for her first day at Knox Doss Middle School just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
"She had all new clothes, it appeared to me. She was very neat. She had her backpack on, looked like an angel," said Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley.
At the end of her first day, Timea Batts boarded the bus and headed home where she knew her dad would be waiting for her.
"He wasn't sure what time she would be home, so he was home and thought he'd take a little nap," said attorney Joy Kimbrough.
District Attorney Ray Whitley says surveillance cameras captured Timothy Batts doing something else.
"He was walking around in the house with a cellphone up to his left ear and a loaded handgun," said Whitley. "And the gun is loaded with 22 rounds of ammunition."
Minutes later, surveillance video shows his daughter Timea come in from school.
"She took her backpack off. She set her backpack down. She took her shoes off, set her shoes very neatly by the backpack," said Whitley.
Defense attorney Joy Kimbrough says Timothy was just starting to doze off when he heard the door open.
"He yelled again, 'Who is that?' No one responded," said Kimbrough. "He sat up in his bed and then he saw a shadow, a quick shadow. When he saw that shadow he knew someone was in the house."
Fearing for his life, he grabs a gun from under the dresser and goes to investigate.
"He's about to exit his room door and, see he doesn't know it's his daughter, jumps from his side, his right side, she comes from the side and says 'Roar,' like that," Joy Kimbrough tells Crime Watch Daily. "She grabs him. And he thinks it's an intruder. He thinks for a split-second, 'They got me,' and he shoots one time."
The bullet went through the little girl's chest, came out the other side and lodged in the wall.
"She had a little training bra and there was a bullet hole in the training bra," said Sumner County D.A. Whitley.
After the shot is fired, surveillance video shows Timea jumping up and down.
"He said 'Did I shoot you? Did I shoot you?' She said 'I don't know,'" said defense attorney Joy Kimbrough. She pulled up her shirt and he saw the hole."
The frantic father grabbed his daughter and rushed her to a nearby hospital. But two hours later, the bright and beautiful 11-year-old Timea Batts was dead.
"It was so sad what happened, but it was just a big mistake," said Kimbrough.
A big mistake that prosecutors say Timothy Batts tried to cover up with a big lie: He initially said that she was shot when she arrived home.
"He told the police officer the same thing, that she was holding her chest and she was bleeding from her chest when she came into the house, she was screaming," said Whitley. "And of course that was a total fabrication."
Attorney Joy Kimbrough claims her client had to lie so he could stay with his daughter.
"He doesn't know if she's going to need blood, he doesn't know if she's going to need an organ, but he knows whatever she needs he's going to be there for her," said Kimbrough.
Given his criminal record, Kimbrough says Timothy believed that if he told the truth, he would've been arrested immediately. And his last father-daughter conversation would never have happened.
"On the ride to the hospital, he's apologizing, 'I'm so sorry, Timea, I'm sorry,'" said Kimbrough. "She said 'Daddy, I know it was an accident, Daddy, I'm not mad at you.'"
She was alive all that time, only to die at the hospital.
Timothy Batts didn't keep up the lie for long. Hours after his daughter's death, he walked into the police station voluntarily, without an attorney, and explained how he had mistakenly killed his firstborn child. He promised to fully cooperate with investigators and had one request.
"'Would you please let me stay out long enough to bury my little girl?'" said Kimbrough. "They arrest him and he's given a $1 million bond."
Timothy Batts was charged with reckless homicide, possessing a firearm as a felon and tampering with evidence.
What happened next left prosecutors stunned.
"That courtroom was packed with Timothy Batts supporters, and we had a dead 11-year-old girl that hadn't even been buried yet," said D.A. Ray Whitley.
A sudden groundswell of support for the embattled father: thousands signed a petition asking for his release. Ultimately a judge reduced Batts' bond to a half-million dollars.
"A lot of his supporters got together and people pooled their money," said Whitley.
The father of four made bail and was out in time to attend Timea's funeral. But his freedom didn't last long.
"He apparently had an affinity for cocaine, for drugs, and that came back to haunt him," said Whitley.
A month after his release, Timothy Batts' bond was revoked and he was back behind bars.
"The judge specifically stated as a condition of his bond that he was not to use any drugs whatsoever, but he tested positive for cocaine within five days," said Whitley.
Despite passing subsequent drug tests, Batts remained behind bars.
"It was reckless behavior by a convicted felon that shouldn't have had a gun in the first place," said Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley.
"He's no thug like they're trying to portray him to be," defense attorney Joy Kimbrough said in court.
Timothy Batts trial goes before a judge and jury in a Hendersonville, Tenn. court. Surveillance video from inside Batts' home is shown. It shows just seconds after Batts fired the gun, hitting his daughter, he rushes to get her help.
Jurors were presented two very different pictures of the Tennessee dad, who tearfully took the stand to recount his last conversation with Timea on their way to the hospital.
"She was like, 'Daddy, Daddy, just tell this is a dream, Daddy, tell me it's a dream,''" Batts testified. "And then I just kept on telling her 'I'm sorry Timea, I'm sorry,' and then she was like 'I know,' she was like, 'I know it.'"
The defense painted him as a concerned father who had fought for custody, who had been victimized himself in a shooting in the past and he just reacted.
"Part of that is true," said Ray Whitley. "He did fight for custody and he did have custody of Timea and her brothers and sisters, but he also had another side as well, and that side was a dark side."
Whitley is referring to Batts' criminal past. According to police, Batts had four arrests and two convictions for drug possession.
"You know it doesn't take a lot to be felon in Tennessee," said Joy Kimbrough. "Here in Tennessee, if you possess marijuana three times, a little marijuana you're going to smoke, the third time is a felony."
Was Timothy Batts a criminal?
"Timothy is a person who in the past had been charged and convicted of a crime," said Kimbrough.
But was Batts living in fear because of that criminal past?
"I told the jury that he was distracted for some reason," said Ray Whitley.
In court, prosecutors used surveillance video as evidence that the father was distracted the day he killed his daughter, showing him talking on his cellphone while walking around with a loaded gun in his other hand. Prosecutors say it was the gun used to kill Timea.
"He came home and he was walking around in the house with a cellphone up to his left ear and a loaded gun, and the gun was loaded with 22 rounds of ammunition, once looking over his shoulder. It's almost like he was expecting somebody to be following him, coming to get him inside the home," said Whitley.
"People were led to believe he was walking around the house talking on the phone with a gun," said Kimbrough. "But that's not what happened."
The defense claimed the gun belonged to Timothy's cousin, who had left it at his house just two days earlier.
"The cousin had been drinking and he did not want to leave in his car with the gun, so he asked Timothy if he'd mind keeping the gun, or could he leave it at the house," said Kimbrough.
But he knew he wasn't supposed to have a pistol with him.
"Well, he wasn't supposed to have a pistol," said Kimbrough. "But this was just a circumstance, this wasn't an ordinary thing, this isn't something that happens all the time."
This is what the defense claims that surveillance video shows:
"When he left home he took the gun with him so no one could get to the gun. He actually thought that would be a safe thing to do," said Kimbrough. "And when he comes back in he's just going straight to his room. He's not walking around with the gun. He's not talking and swinging the gun."
Other evidence presented by the prosecution included large amounts of cash found in Batts' home.
"It is totally irrelevant," Kimbrough said in court.
Efforts by the defense to suppress the evidence were unsuccessful.
"It is to inflame the jury, it is to make the jury think, they're trying to backdoor in 'Oh, he's a drug dealer.' They already know about a felony conviction for drugs," said Kimbrough in court.
But prosecutors argued the cash showed Batts' state of mind the day he shot and killed Timea.
"These are all factors that would show that Mr. Batts was distracted to the point that he shot his daughter recklessly," said Whitley in court.
The father hung his head and cried when prosecutors showed jurors the bloodied clothes that had to be cut off his daughter.
When it was the defense's turn, they called Timothy Batts to the stand, and he told the court in his own words how he mistakenly shot his daughter.
"At the edge of the door she jumped out from the side of the wall and said 'Rawr,' you know, as if to scare me, and the gun was in my hand and it had just went off, and I realized it was Timea, and I'm like 'Timea, please tell me you're not hit,'" Batts testified.
His lawyer said he had reason to be extra cautious that day. She showed jurors six bullet wounds he got from a shooting six years earlier.
During closing arguments, the defense said Timothy Batts was simply a father who made a terrible mistake and panicked.
"He's no thug like they're tying to portray him to be. He is a human being with four little children, one that died. Three little children now," Joy Kimbrough said in court. "He is a man that has been beat up on enough. He is a man that's taken six shots in the back and in the back of his head. He's been beat up on enough. I ask that you find him not guilty."
Prosecutors zeroed in on the reckless homicide charge.
"The defendant Timothy Batts fired without looking. That's why all of us are here today and Timea Batts is not," a prosecutor said in court.
After nine hours of deliberations, jurors found Timothy Batts not guilty of tampering with evidence; guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm; but they were deadlocked on the charge of reckless homicide. Just one juror kept prosecutors from winning a conviction.
Rather than retry Timothy Batts, a plea bargain was reached.
"We agreed if he were to plead guilty as charged to reckless homicide, that we would recommend to the judge that that charge would run concurrently at the same time with the felony possession of a firearm charge," said Ray Whitley.
With time already served, Batts could be granted parole in a matter of months.
Was justice served in this case?
"It was," said Whitley. "It definitely was, because he has been held accountable. He did plead guilty to reckless homicide. He is serving four years."
Was the sentence just in this case?
"Not to me. Not to Timothy. Not to his kids. Not to his mother," said Kimbrough.
Should Batts have custody of his other children when he gets out of prison?
"He made one horrible, horrible mistake," said Whitley. "He has had a history of being involved with drugs. But that's certainly not any business of mine at this point. Surely he's learned a lesson."
Since Batts' prison sentences were ordered to be served concurrently, he will be eligible for parole in the fall of 2018.