Court must determine how long witness has been lying
Tadaryl D. Shipp is a liar.
The question for Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz is when Shipp became one.
Was it days after he helped torture and murder 19-year-old Colleen Slemmer in January 1995? Was it nine months later when he penned a graphic letter detailing the crime? Or was it Monday when he tried to deflect blame from then-girlfriend Christa Gail Pike, now on death row for what Shipp had always maintained was a killing she engineered?
Shipp took to the witness stand Monday in a bid to help Pike win a shot at a new trial by convincing Leibowitz her constitutional rights were violated when she was tried and sentenced to die for Slemmer’s slaying.
Shipp had long insisted it was Pike who crafted a plot to lure Slemmer to a secluded spot on the University of Tennessee agricultural campus; Pike who brought a meat cleaver to make torturous cuts on Slemmer’s body; Pike who helped Shipp carve a pentagram on Slemmer’s chest; Pike who bashed Slemmer’s head in with a rock; Pike who took a sliver of Slemmer’s skull as a souvenir.
Pike, then 18, Slemmer, Shipp and another participant in the killing, Shadolla Peterson, were all students at the now-defunct Job Corps training program for troubled youth that had been located in Knoxville in 1995.
Prior court testimony showed that Pike grew jealous of Slemmer over Shipp and hatched a plan to attack the girl, enlisting then 17-year-old Shipp and 18-year-old Peterson to help. Slemmer was beaten, sliced with a box cutter and meat cleaver, and then bludgeoned to death.
Because of his age, Shipp could not be sentenced to death. He is serving a life sentence. Peterson, a key witness in the case, walked away with probation.
Pike has exhausted all but this final round of appeals that hinge on whether her defense team was so derelict as to violate her rights. Monday’s hearing is one in a series held since January, with more set for later this year. The hearings have been spread over several months largely to suit the availability of certain witnesses and the judge’s packed court calendar.
At Monday’s hearing, Pike’s taxpayer-funded defense team sought to show that her prior defenders failed to put on proof that Pike suffered bi-polar disorder and was under the sway of a manipulative, violent Shipp.
Shipp, a defense witness, himself sought to portray Pike as an “edgy” woman who would sometimes “black out” with attacks of rage for which she always was remorseful. He also sought through his testimony to minimize her role in the slaying.
“I carved every last bit of it,” Shipp testified of the pentagram carved on Slemmer’s chest.
He also testified that he was the one who brought the meat cleaver and box cutter.
Both claims contradicted a statement he gave to Knoxville Police Department Investigator Randy York shortly after the slaying.
“First of all, I was drunk,” Shipp responded when pressed by Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price on why he implicated Pike when interviewed by York, who now works as a bailiff in Leibowitz’s court. “I was tired.”
Price later introduced as evidence a letter Shipp wrote to a former girlfriend in September 1995 in which he recounted the events leading up to Slemmer’s slaying.
Shipp used nicknames for each person involved. He labeled Slemmer “Witch,” himself as “Baby Satan,” Peterson as “Dolla,” and Pike as “Lil Devil.”
“Witch asked Baby Satan if he was going with Witch, Dolla and Lil Devil,” Shipp wrote. “Baby Satan didn’t know what was going on so Baby Satan went and asked Lil Devil. Lil Devil said that they were going to kick Witch’s (expletive) when they got her alone.”
Shipp wrote that he was “cool” with the plan and went with the trio.
Pike, he wrote, grabbed Slemmer by the hair and “started kneeing Witch in the face.”
“Dolla said, ‘Let me have some’ and ran over and took over,” he wrote.
Each time that Slemmer would break free, Shipp wrote that he punched her in the face to stop her. He also described how Pike carved “a six-point star on Witch’s forehead” and how Pike and Peterson made a series of slashes on Slemmer’s face and throat.
All the while, Slemmer was “still alive” and trying to escape, he wrote.
Shipp wrote that he decided to “take” Slemmer’s “soul” so he “cuts the door for Witch (so her) soul can leave.”
“Baby Satan finished what had to be done” and then stepped aside so Pike could kill Slemmer with the rock, he wrote.
Leibowitz will continue hearing witnesses in the case later this year. A final date has not yet been set, although the judge said Monday she wants to conclude the hearings by year’s end.
The case has dragged on for years now in large part because Pike tried to withdraw her appeals and then flip-flopped at the last minute, leading to a landmark state Supreme Court decision.
Since being on death row, Pike has managed to rack up another conviction for trying to kill a fellow Knoxville murderer behind bars in a beef over a Greeneville female killer who Pike claimed as her behind-bars paramour.
Jamie Satterfield may be reached at 865-342-6308.
© 2007, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.