Keeairra Dashiell and her then-boyfriend, Tyquan Knox, at their graduation…
When Keeairra Dashiell graduated with honors from Crenshaw High School seven years ago, she seemed headed for success. Offered admission into several top colleges, she accepted a scholarship to UC San Diego, leaving behind the often rough, inner-city world of South Los Angeles.
But on Thursday, Dashiell's talent and promise were a distant, squandered memory as the 24-year-old sat handcuffed in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. After years of lying, she fully confessed to her role in a 2007 murder and, in a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and attempted robbery. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor sentenced Dashiell to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 19 years.
After handing down the sentence, Pastor spoke to Dashiell at length as she sat quietly next to her attorney with her head bowed. "You made horrific decisions and caused incalculable pain and suffering to others," Pastor said in a somber tone. "You're not entitled to pity."
PHOTOS: Aftermath of a holdup
Dashiell confessed to having a hand in the Jan. 3, 2007, murder of Pamela Lark, who was shot to death by Dashiell's then-boyfriend, Tyquan Knox. Dashiell admitted to driving Knox to the Mid-City block where Lark lived with her teenage daughter Khristina Henry and, with several members of her family and Lark's listening in the courtroom, said she knew Knox was armed with a gun and that he planned to kill Henry. Dashiell waited for Knox and drove him away when he returned.
Months earlier, Knox, a one-time football star at Crenshaw High School, had robbed Henry and her boyfriend at gunpoint. Lark insisted that Henry report it to police, telling her that it was her duty to do so.
Over the next few months, Knox's mother and other acquaintances contacted Lark and Henry in an effort to dissuade the teenager from testifying at Knox's approaching trial. "You better watch your back," Henry remembered being told by a mutual acquaintance. "It's best that you guys not go to court."
Knox, who had ruined his best chance at earning a football scholarship when he was kicked off Crenshaw's team for hitting a girl, still harbored hopes of catching the eye of scouts. He feared that a conviction would ruin any chance of being recruited by a college, the prosecution contended at his murder trial.
Despite the threats against her, Henry still planned on taking the stand at Knox's preliminary hearing. Four days before the hearing, Knox strode up to Lark as she, a niece and two young grandchildren stood near her car. He demanded her purse and then opened fire without taking anything.
Dashiell said on Thursday that she and Knox went to the apartment before dawn with a plan to kill Henry, not Lark. The pair apparently did not see Henry when she emerged from the apartment in the morning and drove off to attend class at a nearby community college. It remains unknown why Knox targeted Lark. After two attempts at prosecuting Knox ended in mistrials when the juries could not reach verdicts, Knox was convicted of murder at a third trial in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In the first two trials, Danette Meyers, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the cases, struck a deal with Dashiell: In exchange for her testimony against Knox, Dashiell would serve only seven years in prison. Dashiell, however, proved to be a reluctant and unconvincing witness, often contradicting herself and getting caught in lies. Meyers rescinded the offer and, until Thursday's agreement, had vowed to prosecute Dashiell on murder charges.
With more than six years having passed since the murder, Thursday's hearing brought an end to countless hours Lark's family has spent in courtrooms having to relive the horror of the killing. "I'm just happy it's finally over," Henry said after the hearing.
Lark's murder and its fallout was the subject of a two-part series in The Times.
In his comments, Pastor, a veteran judge who heard each of Knox's trials as well, said that of the thousands of cases he's handled as a judge and previously as a prosecutor, none "impacted me as much as this case." The strain was so great, Pastor said, it pushed him to request a transfer so he wouldn't have to hear such cases anymore.
"I couldn't handle it anymore because I saw the terrible pain this case has caused all of you," he said to the members of both Lark's and Dashiell's families. Pastor offered kind words to Dashiell's parents, saying they appeared to be good people. "Mrs. Dashiell asked where she went wrong. She didn't go wrong," he said. "Keeairra Dashiell did this herself."
After Dashiell had been led away, members of her family approached Henry and other relatives of Lark. Forming a line, they each tearfully embraced Henry and the others, whispering apologies.
PHOTOS: Aftermath of a holdup
Taking in the emotional scene was Michael Slider, Henry's uncle and a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department. Slider was fired by the department in 2010 for leaking confidential information about the case after he became convinced that his fellow LAPD detectives had not done enough to protect Henry and Lark from Knox. After an appeals court threw out one of the department's allegations against Slider and sent the case back to the LAPD for reconsideration, police officials relented and reinstated Slider.