Shameika Averett stood at the front of the courtroom, holding a color photo for Jervarceay Tapley to see.
It was a photo of Tapley, smiling, playing in the backyard pool of 3057 Bentley Drive, the home in which Tapley murdered Averett’s mother, daughter and brother on Jan. 4, 2016.
Of three youths to be sentenced for the crimes Friday, Tapley was the only one who knew the victims, and knew them well: He was longtime friends with Caleb Short, 17, whose mother Gloria Short, 54, treated Tapley like a nephew. Also in the pool photo Averett held was her daughter Gianna “Gigi” Lindsey, 10, the third victim.
The photo was evidence of how close Tapley was to the family, which invited him on vacations and trips to ballgames and movies. He sometimes spent summers with the Shorts, swimming in their pool.
“I hope you see this picture,” Averett said, her voice rising in outrage. “Can you see it? CAN YOU? You destroyed everything! You’ve taken everything from us! ... Why? Why, why, why, why?”
She spoke shortly before Judge Gil McBride sentenced Tapley, 20, to life without parole on each of three counts of malice murder, finding the circumstances warranted so harsh a penalty.
Averett continued: “I have come to this conclusion: Monsters do exist. You are a monster, a monster with many faces.”
Authorities said it was Tapley who persuaded his two codefendants to travel 20 miles from south Columbus to the Shorts’ home in Upatoi to steal Caleb’s PlayStation 4 video game and his clothes, particularly the Nike Air Jordans he collected, and it was Tapley who lured Caleb outside, where Tapley and Rufus Burks bound Caleb with tape and dragged him into the backyard.
That was on the evening of Jan. 3, 2016. About 8 a.m. the next day, nurse Robert Short Sr. came home from work to find his wife, son and granddaughter bound with tape and bludgeoned with a 20-pound dumbbell. Gloria Short and Gianna also were stabbed.
“How do I explain the impact of losing three members of my family?” Robert Short asked as he addressed the court Friday, noting the betrayal he felt upon learning the prime suspect was “someone I’d known since he was a little boy.”
Tapley kept up the ruse after the deaths were discovered, pretending to mourn with the family until his arrest the following Jan. 12.
After Tapley, McBride sentenced Burks, 18, to two concurrent life sentences plus 15 years to serve on charges of felony murder, kidnapping with bodily harm, burglary and two counts of auto theft.
The third defendant, Raheam Daniel Gibson, pleaded guilty to simple kidnapping and two counts of auto theft. McBride sentenced him to 10 years on each count, equaling 30 years in prison. Attorneys said Gibson, 21, may be eligible for parole in about 10 years.
Outside the courtroom afterward, Averett talked about the shock the family felt upon learning Tapley was a suspect, back in 2016. He was close to the Shorts because he and his grandmother lived with Gloria Short’s brother Robert Averett, his grandmother’s boyfriend. Robert Averett died of a heart attack two days after the homicides.
Shameika Averett said that immediately after the murders, the family suspected someone who knew the victims must have been involved, but no one could figure out who would be so heartless.
Tapley’s cold-blooded betrayal of those who loved and trusted him fueled her outrage when she confronted him in court, she said.
“He looked at me. ... When I held up that picture of Caleb in the pool with Gigi, I forced him to look at me: ‘Look at this picture. Look at the lives that you took away. These were your friends. This was the life that you just destroyed.’ We went on vacations with him. We traveled with him. We broke bread with him. My mother bought him things.”
She and her stepfather Robert Short may never know what drove Tapley to such brutality, she said.
“I knew I would not get an answer to my ‘why.’ My stepfather had the same question, ‘why.’ We’re never going to know why. People ask me all the time, ‘Why?’ You can’t explain evil.”
Tapley pleaded guilty to malice murder Jan. 30, and a jury Feb. 19 found Burks guilty of felony murder, kidnapping, first-degree burglary and two counts of felony auto theft.
After Gibson’s guilty plea Friday, the judge and prosecutors agreed to dismiss all the other charges he had faced, including six counts of murder.
Gibson, who agreed to testify during Burks’ trial, helped police clear the case, having first told his sister he was involved, and then his mother. His mother called police, and Gibson cooperated with them from then on, said his attorneys J. Mark Shelnutt and William Kendrick.
Kendrick was the last to address the court Friday, comparing the mother’s sacrificing Gibson for justice to the Bible story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.
“She sacrificed her son,” Kendrick said, of the Shorts adding, “She gave him up for this family to get what they needed.”
Shameika Averett discounted the comparison afterward. “I sacrificed my daughter. She was 10 years old,” she said. “We’ve sacrificed every day of our lives.”
Gibson’s mother still will get to see her son, she noted, and police eventually would have solved the crime anyway: “They would have figured this out with or without him.”
At the time of the crime, Burks was 15, Tapley 17 and Gibson 19.
Their youth was a factor in what penalties prosecutors could pursue, as the law on sentencing youthful offenders to life still is evolving.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 prohibited the death penalty for defendants who were younger than 18 when they committed the crime, said District Attorney Julia Slater. The courts also have ruled out mandatory life-without-parole sentences for offenders that age.
Still a judge may impose life without parole after finding the crime was so heinous that it reflected “permanent incorrigibility.” That requires “exceptional circumstances” for the “rarest of juvenile offenders” who exhibit “such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible,” the courts have ruled.
McBride cited such circumstances while sentencing Tapley: “I am mindful of the fact that these crimes are truly heinous,” he said, adding, “This is the type of crime that lives with a community for decades.”
He found Tapley’s actions “irretrievably depraved,” citing the defendant’s 20-mile trip to commit the murders, his luring Caleb outside to bind him with duct tape, the brutal bludgeonings that ensued, and afterward Tapley’s “crocodile tears” and “contrived grief” as he pretended to mourn with the family.
The judge did not find such standards applied to Burks. Burks’ attorney Jennifer Curry argued he could not have made rational decisions at age 15: “Fifteen-year-olds are not capable of making these decisions,” she said.
She argued that stacking Burks’ felony sentences would amount to “de facto life without parole,” imprisoning him beyond his life expectancy. “We really have to look at how juveniles are different,” she said.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Al Whitaker, who prosecuted Burks with colleague Christopher Williams, countered the courts have never concluded a “de facto life without parole” exists, and under current law, McBride could give Burks a sentence that effectively would imprison him for life.
Before the judge sentenced Gibson, he inquired about the young man’s background. Gibson said he got as far as eighth grade at Eddy Middle School before dropping out. Asked why, he said, “Because I couldn’t get along with other people.”
He has been diagnosed with depression and needs medication to sleep, he said. He has spent time in a mental health treatment center, and twice has tried to hurt himself, once in July 2017 while he was in jail awaiting trial, he said.
He had no job and lived with his mother before his arrest, he said. He has a 2-year-old child.
Shelnutt said Gibson never knew his father. Gibson has an IQ of 63, Shelnutt said, before noting that Tapley in a presentencing investigation claimed Gibson was the one who hatched the plan to rob the Shorts, a ludicrous proposition. “He was no leader and no mastermind,” Shelnutt said, adding Gibson wasn’t even capable of driving the vehicles that were stolen from the Shorts’ home.
Yet Gibson’s testimony was “critical” to the prosecution’s case, Shelnutt said.
Gibson testified the suspects traveled from Arbor Pointe on Benning Drive to the Shorts’ Bentley Drive home, starting out on a moped and bicycle. Later they leap-frogged on the moped when Tapley’s bicycle broke down near the Georgia driver’s license bureau on Macon Road: Two traveled ahead before one turned back to get the third.
After the murders, they stole the Shorts’ GMC Envoy and a Volkswagen Beetle, abandoning the vehicles in Oakland Park off South Lumpkin Road.
They gained little from the crime, taking only Caleb’s clothes, some cash, coins, video games and the PlayStation game console.
Gibson said that when they got to the Shorts’ home, they went through a gate into the backyard, where Tapley called Caleb on his cell phone and had Caleb come to a rear bedroom window, where Tapley told him to come out the front door.
When Caleb came out, Tapley wrestled him down and had Burks help bind him with duct tape. “You’d better be playing,” Gibson said Caleb told his longtime friend.
Tapley and Burks dragged Caleb into the backyard before Tapley came back around and went in the unlocked front door, Gibson said.
As he waited outside, Gibson said he heard no noise from within the house. “I was just standing there confused,” he said.
Eventually Burks called him to the home’s carport, where Gibson saw that Tapley and Burks had loaded the Volkswagen with loot, including boxes of Nike sneakers. He and Burks left in the Beetle as Tapley told them he was going back in the house to find more things to steal.
As Burks drove back toward town, he and Gibson tried to call Tapley on his cell phone and got no answer, Gibson said. They were on Wynnton Road in midtown when Tapley called back and told them to go to Oakland Park, where he was waiting on them with the GMC Envoy.
After they transferred the loot to the Envoy, Tapley collected both sets of keys and told Burks and Gibson to walk to his home as he drove there in the Envoy, Gibson said.
Police later learned Tapley had recruited a fourth teen, Marcus Dermer, for his scheme, but Dermer that night chose to stay with his girlfriend at Arbor Pointe, and did not join them.
Dermer testified that Tapley called him about 1 a.m. to say he had some things for Dermer to pick up. When he awoke the next morning, he found a bag of Caleb’s clothes on his front porch. He and Burks later photographed themselves wearing some of the clothing, and posted the image to Facebook.
Dermer was not charged.
When Robert Short came home from working the night shift at Northside Hospital that morning, he walked into a house of horrors: his wife, son and granddaughter slain, blood spattered on the walls, and what police called a “debris field” of shattered items extending from the bodies of Gloria Short and Gianna, who lay just feet apart in a central hallway and living room. The dumbbell, one of a pair Caleb had kept in his bedroom, was on the floor beside Gianna.
Caleb’s body was in a walk-in closet off the master bedroom, so brutally beaten that some of his teeth were knocked out.
“They’ve been tied up and beaten!” Robert Short sobbed on his 8:02 a.m. 911 call. “Who would do this to my family? Who would do this?”
On Friday, as he asked McBride to punish the people who did that to his family, he said:
“No amount of time will be enough.... We just want justice, justice for Gloria, justice for Caleb, justice for Gianna, justice for all of us.”