Mom charged in deaths of 2 witnesses

Prosecutors say woman paid nephew to carry out killings

By Jim Salter
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Prosecutors have charged a St. Louis woman with arranging the deaths of two 16-year-old boys who were potential witnesses in a murder case against her teenage son - a case that initially fell apart because other witnesses refused to testify.

Latashia Mopkins, 38, faces two counts each of first-degree murder and murder conspiracy, among other charges made public last week. Her brother, nephew and a third man also face murder charges in the deaths of one or both of the two teenage witnesses, and prosecutors reinstated the original murder charge against her son, Tyrell Davidson.

All five are jailed without bond.

Investigators allege that Davidson, then 16, gunned down 16-year-old Chauncey Brown, with whom he'd been feuding, outside a youth club in September of 2013. He was charged as an adult with first-degree murder in Brown's death.

In the grand jury indictment unveiled last week, prosecutors allege that Mopkins paid her nephew, Frederick Mopkins, to kill James Moore, a 16-year-old who was with Brown when he was killed. In October 2013, less than a month after Brown's death, Frederick Mopkins and another man, Travon Knighten, chased Moore from a school bus stop to a baseball field, where they fatally shot him. Latashia Mopkins paid her nephew an unspecified amount for the killing, the indictment alleges.

After Moore's death, Latashia Mopkins somehow got ahold of a police report that included the names of other potential witnesses - a report that shouldn't have been publicly available, prosecutors said. It was through that report that she learned that 16-year-old Noah Barnes, who was with Davidson in the car during the attack on Brown, was a potential witness, said Beth Orwick, chief trial assistant to Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

"We believe she used that report to confirm that he was a snitch, that he was talking to police," Orwick said.

In April 2014, Frederick Mopkins and Latashia Mopkins' brother, Cortez McClinton, killed Barnes, the indictment alleges. Barnes' body was found in the street. He had been shot in the head, torso and extremities.

Latashia Mopkins also allegedly offered to pay for Barnes to be killed, but the indictment doesn't indicate that anyone was paid.

Prosecutors had to drop the original charges against Davidson and release him last October because witnesses were refusing to cooperate. The new indictment reinstates the murder charge and other counts related to Brown's death against Davidson, now 19. He is also charged with witness tampering.

Latashia Mopkins has no criminal record. Knighten, 26, McClinton, 36, and Frederick Mopkins, 25, have previous felony convictions for drugs and theft. McClinton also was convicted of second-degree murder, kidnapping and other crimes earlier this year in an unrelated case, and sentenced to 36 years in prison.

The homicide rate has soared in St. Louis over the last few years, and teenage victims are common.

"This is a tragedy, that's for sure," Orwick said of the killings of the three 16-year-olds. "Anytime there is a loss of life it breaks our heart."

Published: Mon, Aug 01, 2016