The month after she was shot, a paralyzed Kayla Atkins gave birth to a daughter, born just 23 weeks into the pregnancy. Unable to use her arms, Atkins didn’t get to hold the premature baby, who died laying on her mother’s chest.
“She was a fighter. She held on as long as she could,” Atkins said Friday, sitting in a wheelchair on the steps of the 19th Judicial District Courthouse two years after the shooting. Moments before, a jury convicted her ex-husband, Frank Atkins, of attempted second-degree murder for shooting his wife and second-degree murder in the death of their child.
Frank Atkins, 28, will face an automatic term of life in prison when state District Judge Trudy White sentences him Oct. 2, the day before Kayla Atkins’ 26th birthday.
“That’s the best birthday gift I can get,” she said.
“Justice has been served,” she added. “I feel good. Very good. I’m glad it’s all over. I can sleep now.”
The jury deliberated about an hour before unanimously finding Frank Atkins guilty of attempted second-degree murder.
The five women and seven men voted 11-1 in convicting Atkins of second-degree murder, rejecting the defense argument that Atkins should have been charged with feticide — which would have carried a penalty of up to 15 years in prison — rather than second-degree murder, which is defined as the killing of a human being.
Frank Atkins’ attorney, Jarvis Antwine, argued to the jury Friday that Charitee Shyne Atkins, as the baby was later named, was not a human being on June 19, 2012, the day of the shooting.
“It was a fetus. Little Charitee didn’t exist at that time. She was an unborn child,” he told the panel.
Assistant District Attorney Louise Hines countered in her closing argument that Charitee was not an unborn child when she died on July 26.
“She was born alive and died. She gasped, she gasped, and then died,” Hines said to a hushed courtroom.
Kayla Atkins, who testified during the trial, told reporters she went into labor and delivered Charitee despite being paralyzed. The baby died of respiratory failure due to prematurity.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore said Kayla Atkins has a 4-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son.
“It’s still kind of hard because I can’t interact with my kids like I used to,” she acknowledged.
Hines told the jury that Frank Atkins tried to strangle his wife three times two days before the shooting, and caused her to lose consciousness on the final attempt. He was arrested that day and booked into Parish Prison on a count of domestic abuse battery.
A temporary restraining order was issued June 18, 2012, requiring Frank Atkins to stay away from his wife, court records indicate. Kayla Atkins said in the petition for the order that her husband also had been violent toward her on several previous occasions.
Frank Atkins was released from jail the same day he received the restraining order, after posting bail of $7,500. Hines said he had threatened to kill his wife if she did not bond him out of jail. Kayla Atkins did not post the bail.
Hines said Atkins called his wife on June 19, 2012, and asked her to bring his cellphone to his grandmother’s house on Bay Street.
“He lured her there,” the prosecutor said, adding that a witness heard Atkins tell his wife, “You think I’m just going to let you leave me.”
A surveillance video, which Hines played for the jury, shows Frank Atkins calmly walking toward the car in which his wife was riding just moments before the shooting. After several seconds, he calmly walks back into the house.
“He intended to kill Kayla. He ended up killing his daughter instead,” she argued, noting that June 19 is his birthday. “He thought he had killed his wife and his baby. What a birthday present!”
Kayla Atkins also filed a petition May 2, 2012, for a restraining order against her husband, saying he beat her, pulled a gun on her and told her he would kill her if she ever left him. A temporary restraining order was issued that day, but it was dismissed a day later at her request.
Kayla Atkins delivered a message Friday to domestic violence victims.
“Get out of it before it gets worse,” she said.