Murder charge dropped in 4-year-old's shooting death

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Shakeya Holmes, seen here with her 4-year-old daughter, Sani Holmes, who fatally shot herself June 23, 2016.

A Municipal Court judge Wednesday dropped a third-degree murder charge against a woman whose 4-year-old daughter shot herself with a gun hidden in a closet in her North Philadelphia home.

Shakeya Holmes, 26, will stand trial on the remaining charges against her - including involuntary manslaughter, hindering apprehension, and firearms offenses. Her boyfriend, Demetrius Williams, will also stand trial on involuntary-manslaughter and related charges.

Holmes' daughter Sani was killed in June when she found a Glock handgun on a closet shelf in Holmes' bedroom. Prosecutor Kristen Kemp said at Wednesday's preliminary hearing that Holmes had repeatedly changed her story about what had happened to her daughter and lied to police about the gun's provenance.

Holmes' attorneys said that their client was hysterical and panicking, and that the shooting had been a tragic accident.

Officers who responded to the scene testified Wednesday that Holmes first said the bullet had come through an open window.

Then she admitted there was a gun in the house. She said she had been washing dishes when she heard a pop and raced upstairs to find Sani covered in blood.

Holmes told police she washed the blood from the girl, trying to find where the bullet had hit her, and then laid her on her front porch and ran for help.

Kemp said Holmes left her daughter to die on the porch while she attempted to hide the gun.

"She was in the house, covering up for her and Mr. Williams," Kemp said.

Holmes initially told police that she found the gun and an extended magazine in a backpack "near the projects" and had taken it home. She tried to sell it once or twice, she told investigators.

Several hours into her interview with homicide detectives, she admitted that Williams, who was on probation for a previous firearms charge, had found the gun and kept it at the house.

"I didn't want to be a rat," she explained to detectives in the recorded interview, portions of which were played in court.

Holmes cried throughout the four-hour hearing, sobbing as Kemp read the medical examiner's report on her daughter's injuries and turning her face away as the interview played. Williams sat impassive next to her.

Though Kemp argued that Williams and Holmes recklessly left a loaded gun in reach of their children - in a closet where Holmes' three daughters often played - their defense attorneys said the couple were not required by law to secure the gun.

"There was a gun in the house, but it doesn't make them murderers," said defense attorney Steve Gross. "Whatever happens to Miss Holmes, the worst has already happened."

In dropping the murder charge, the most serious against Holmes, Judge Patrick Dugan reduced her bail to $250,000 but rejected the defense's request to put her on house arrest. He set Williams' bail at $1 million. Previously, Williams had been held without bail.

He also signed a court order granting Holmes protective custody in jail. The nature of her case and the publicity it received, her attorneys said, had "put her under threat in the prison."

awhelan@philly.com

215-854-2961@aubreyjwhelan