MANATEE -- Police have charged Janiya Thomas's mother with abuse of a dead body in the case surrounding the presumed death of the missing 11-year-old Bradenton girl.
Detectives obtained a warrant charging 31-year-old Keishanna Thomas with abuse of a dead body, also known as "Caylee's Law," after the daughter of Casey Anthony, and served her with it at the Manatee County jail, said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski.
On Sunday night, law enforcement was called to the home of a family member who had discovered a body believed to be Janiya inside a freezer. Keishanna Thomas and a boyfriend, yet to be identified by police, brought the freezer to the home Oct. 14 under the guise she was being evicted.
According to a warrant affidavit obtained Thursday evening by the Bradenton Herald, the frozen body of a small black child was contorted to fit in a small cardboard box within the freezer, along with two boxes of baking soda. No other items were in the freezer.
The warrant affidavit sheds light on an exchange between Thomas and a resident of the home where she reportedly dropped the freezer off last week. According to the document, the occupant asked Thomas why the freezer was locked. Thomas said she didn't want the occupant to steal her meat. The occupant also asked Thomas why she was plugging it in and Thomas replied she didn't want her meat to go bad.
According to the affidavit,
it was determined the child's body was placed in the cardboard box prior to being placed in the freezer.
Earlier Thursday, police said the Medical Examiner's Office would be unable to identify the body found in the freezer or determine the cause of death before next week.
An autopsy conducted Wednesday afternoon was inconclusive and more testing has been scheduled. Radzilowski said sometime next week, after all evidence is evaluated by the medical examiner, an identification or cause of death would be determined.
"They are pretty sure they know who it is and know the cause of death, but they need to make sure they have medical findings that confirm their beliefs," Radzilowski said.
Thomas, now charged with abuse of a dead body, contempt of court, aggravated child abuse and child abuse, will appear in court at 1 p.m. Friday on the abuse of dead body charge.
Keishanna Thomas on Thursday again refused to talk to a judge about her daughter.
Thomas was first brought before a judge Oct. 16 after refusing to tell investigators with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Child Protective Investigative Division of the child's whereabouts. Investigators had come to the Thomas home in the Village at Cortez Apartments, 488 51st St. W., Bradenton to remove all five of her children as part of a child-abuse case involving her 12-year-old son.
Thomas was held in contempt of court and held without bond at the Manatee County jail after she refused to tell Circuit Judge Scott Brownell anything about Janiya's whereabouts or well-being.
Several hours later, CPI investigators reported Janiya missing to the Bradenton Police Department.
On Saturday, three of Thomas' other children -- ages 15, 12 and 9 -- were interviewed by investigators. One child said it had been more than a year since they had seen Janiya, who reportedly was often beaten and locked in the bathroom for days at a time by Thomas.
On Thursday morning, Circuit Judge Diana Moreland again ordered Thomas held in jail on contempt of court charges when she refused to talk. Her lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Franklin Roberts, said he has advised Thomas to answer the judge's questions.
Assistant State's Attorney Art Brown informed Moreland they are still waiting on test results.
Caylee's Law was signed into effect in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott after outrage sparked by the Casey Anthony trial. Anthony was found not guilty of her daughter's death, but Caylee was not reported missing for 31 days after she vanished and then Anthony initially lied to police during the investigation.
The Florida Department of Children and Families sent a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team to Bradenton to review the presumed death case Monday because there had been a verified report and involvement between CPI and the family in the 12 months before the discovery of the body.
On Thursday afternoon, without yet releasing any of the requested reports of the multiple investigations involving Thomas, DCF released a statement from DCF Secretary Mike Carroll.
"After the horrific tragedy of the murder of an innocent child, we have to stop and think about what we can do to get better to ensure this does not happen again," Carroll said.
Janiya was last seen by child welfare workers during a home visit in June 2014 during which her mother reportedly became uncooperative. Case management and Children's Legal Services recommended the case be closed as "non-compliant" with the understanding court action would be appropriate if another complaint were received.
"The recommendation to close the 2014 Thomas case as non-compliant when Ms.Thomas refused voluntary services was a joint consensus among the Manatee County Sheriff's Office's child protective investigators, Sarasota Family YMCA case managers and DCF's Children's Legal Services. When this joint recommendation was made, all of the children were with the family," Carroll said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.