PULASKI, Tenn. (WKRN) – Shawnda James was 14 years old when she shot her sleeping aunt and kidnapped her 2-year-old cousin in Giles County. Now, 27 years later, Shawnda could be released on parole. It’s a move the District Attorney’s office is adamantly against.
“She had a goal and that was to get back to her life in Michigan and the only thing blocking that or impeding her from achieving her goal was her Aunt Kelly and she killed her in a cold-blooded, calculated manner,” said District Attorney General Brent Cooper.
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It was 1995 in Pulaski, Tennessee. While there were no eyewitnesses to the crimes, the evidence at trial established that James took her uncle’s .22 caliber rifle, put the muzzle of the gun to her Aunt Kelly’s forehead while she was sleeping, and fired a single shot, killing her.
“Apparently she was intending to try and move the body or hide her when Kelly moaned or made a sound and that scared Shawnda and at that point, she ran out of the bedroom and then started getting her stuff together to escape,” Cooper explained.
According to investigators, James grabbed Kelly’s 22-month-old son before taking off in her aunt’s car.
“Then she apparently wrecked it, ran off the road. A Good Samaritan came by and helped her, actually gave her and her nephew a ride to the airport, and, I believe, the police were waiting for her when she got off the plane.”
Shawnda was sentenced to life with parole. In 2011 Governor Phil Bredesen commuted her sentence, making James immediately eligible.
“Kelly, who was only 25 or 26 at the time she was murdered was stripped of her entire life, she will never be paroled, she will never see her family again,” Cooper explained.
While Shawnda, he says, has made the most out of prison – getting a degree and mentoring other inmates.
“She’s gotten an education. She’s apparently gained the support of a lot of people who are fighting for her release, so even if she’s not released, her life has been infinitely better than the James’ and her family’s because of what she did. I know she’s an adult now, I know she’s probably about 40 years old or so, but someone that is that cold-blooded, calculated, I worry would be a threat to society if they were out, released,” said Cooper.
He added that there is no doubt that Shawnda had a terrible childhood, but that doesn’t give her the right to take someone else’s life.
Shawnda James’ parole has been denied before due to the “seriousness of the offense.”
AG Cooper says he plans to be at the parole hearing Wednesday morning with Kelly’s family to oppose James’ release.