‘My baby died alone without anyone to hold her hand, comfort her:’ Chatman sentenced to 40 years

Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 11:31 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2022 at 7:26 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - A Lake Charles man will spend 40 years in prison for killing a pregnant woman.

That’s 32 years for manslaughter and 8 years for second degree feticide.

It was an emotional day in court as the mother and sister of the victims, Kayla Jones and her unborn baby, Jeremiah Lee Jones, gave heart wrenching testimony about the loss they have endured. But it was also a bit bizarre, as the defendant went on a lengthy rant.

In April, Vernell Chatman was found guilty of killing Jones in 2019 while she was eight and a half months pregnant. Prosecutors say Chatman choked and brutally beat Jones and left her body in the freezing cold.

Jones and her baby, who the coroner said would have been viable, both died.

Chatman ranted before the judge for at least 20 minutes claiming he’s innocent. He also blamed a neighbor for not letting him use the phone to call 911, and said repeatedly he’d been raised by women and has utmost respect for them.

“I love her, that’s my friend. I would never hurt her or her child,” Chatman said.

But prosecutor Charles Robinson says it’s not true.

“It’s very ridiculous that he would say, I’ve never hurt her, she was always safe with me, but also blamed other people for not calling 911 when he had made her scream. It really didn’t make sense. It didn’t add up. Really, really despicable what he had to say, and the judge saw through it,” Robinson said.

Robinson also remarked on what Chatman didn’t say.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a defendant speak as long as he did at his own sentencing as Vernell did. And the real shame of it, and as long as he took to say everything he had to say to the judge, not once did he accept personal responsibility for anything he did that night. He spent the whole hearing blaming other people for what he had done,” he said.

The victim’s mother, Janet Jones, and the victim’s sister, Erica, also spoke before the court.

“She was a sweet, lovable girl. She was an incurable drug addict, yes, but she had an innocence about her and a loving, caring heart. She could make anyone laugh,” Janet Jones said about her daughter.

The family had looked forward to Christmas with a new baby. Instead, as Janet said, “Kayla and her unborn child, were just left outside, unconscious, partially clothed, in 36-degree weather to die.”

“Did she cry for us? Did she know how much we loved and cared for her?” Erica Jones said.

Robinson said everyone in the courtroom was moved by the family’s heart wrenching sorrow.

“You always try to imagine the hurt that is in the heart of a family member who’s lost somebody. And today I was reminded that you never really can,” said Robinson.

At the sentencing, Judge Mike Canaday referred to Chatman’s blatant disregard for human life, and called the case tragic for both sides.

Chatman has two years to seek post-conviction relief. His attorney Donald Guidry says Vernell is not a killer, and that whatever happened there was an accident. He plans to appeal the guilty verdict and sentence.

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