EXCLUSIVE: Family of Upatoi victims says trial may be over but healing still underway

Published: Feb. 22, 2018 at 5:24 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2018 at 8:14 AM EST
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The woman who lost her daughter, mother and brother in the brutal Upatoi murders says she wants the toughest penalties possible for the three young men who have all been convicted of the killings.

Shameika Averett talked exclusively to News Leader 9's Barbara Gauthier following the conviction of the lone defendant to stand trial in the case.  The jury found Rufus Burks guilty of felony murder, kidnapping, burglary and theft by taking but the judge declared a mistrial on five of ten counts that the jury could not agree on.

One of the men, who pled guilty to three counts of murder before the trial started, Javarceay Tapley was a family friend of the victims, Gloria Short, her son Caleb Short and granddaughter Gianna Lindsey. Averett described Tapley's actions as "pure evil."

"I try not to think about what they could have went through, I think about my only child, my brother, my mother and that's the only way I can describe it, pure evil," said Averett. "There is nothing that my mother would not have given him. That's how she was, that's the kind of woman she was so there's nothing that he would have had to take," she said.

Although Tapley's attorney said in court he pleaded guilty before trial because he did not want to put the family through it, Averett does not buy it.

"He is very selfish and it's all about him. He didn't want to put himself through a trial, it had nothing to do with us because had you thought about us and all we had been to you, I wouldn't be talking about my family who's gone," said Averett.

The three defendants in the case, Raheam Gibson, who pled guilty to lesser charges, Javarceay Tapley and Rufus Burks all face sentencing next month. Averett says she wants the stiffest penalty possible for the two eligible, which would be life in prison without parole. She says she will leave it up to the District Attorney as to whether or not to re-try Burks on the charges the jury could not reach a verdict on.

Averett says she and her family find some solace knowing that this stage of the process is over but says they have a lot more healing to do. She says that healing will come through faith. "We're not looking to a gavel to come down and for our healing to start," said Averett.

"We want to look at our healing coming from a higher power because that's the only way we've gotten through this trial and this verdict and the things that we've seen and the things that have broken our hearts."

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