Crime

Janiya Thomas' eldest sister told investigators girl was tied, dunked in water in bathroom, never seen again

BRADENTON -- Janiya Thomas' eldest sister told investigators she saw their mother tie Janiya up and dunk her head in water inside the bathroom she was regularly locked in.

Afterwards, the bathroom was cleaned, the door was open and Janiya was never seen again.

Between Sept. 25 and Oct. 16, Keishanna Thomas visited her oldest daughter in foster care and told her not to tell investigators anything about Janiya.

Janiya's brother also recalled coming home one day -- believed to be in January or February this year -- to discover Janiya gone, and the bathroom cleaned out.

An autopsy -- while inconclusive in the matter of death -- has revealed 11-year-old Janiya weighed only 44 pounds at the time of her death, her right leg had been broken two to fours weeks before her death, and there were marks on her hands and feet indicative of being tied.

A grand jury indicted Keishanna Thomas on Tuesday with first-degree murder, abuse of a dead body and aggravated child abuse charges. Details of how investigators believe Janiya died were included in court documents released after the indictment.

The grand jury handed up the indictment after convening for only about three hours, according to Assistant State Attorney Art Brown.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Thomas could be sentenced to death or to life in prison. Brown said he has not decided whether he will pursue the death penalty.

Thomas, 32, will appear in court at 1 p.m. Wednesday for a first-appearance hearing to face her new charges. She will be held without bond, according to the charging documents.

Thomas had already been charged with abuse of a dead body and aggravated child abuse of Janiya in the same case, but the indictment will supersede those charges.

Janiya was last seen by child welfare workers on June 9, 2014, during a visit to her home by a child protection case manager. During the visit, Thomas became uncooperative, leading to the child abuse case being closed rather than further intervention being sought.

The girl was not discovered missing from her mother's home until this past Sept. 23, when a Manatee County Sheriff's Office child protection investigator was called out to investigate allegations Thomas had beaten her 12-year-old son. At that time, only three of Thomas' five children were in the home. When she was ordered by a judge to produce the other two children, Thomas brought Janiya's 2-year-old brother to investigators and said Janiya was with her father's family out of state. Thomas refused to provide more specific details about Janiya's whereabouts.

On Oct. 16, after Thomas was arrested for failing to disclose details about Janiya's whereabouts to a judge, Janiya was officially reported missing to the Bradenton Police Department. Two days later, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office received a call from a relative saying she believed she had found Janiya in a freezer Thomas had brought to her home. The relative later told detectives with the Manatee County Homicide Unit that on the evening of Oct. 15, Thomas had asked to store the mid-sized chest freezer in the relative's garage, according to a capias request written by Bradenton Police Detective Adrian Meridan.

"The child was completely frozen and appeared emaciated," Meridan wrote. "The child had been placed into a cardboard box which had been taped shut. Sitting on top of the box were two orange boxes of baking soda."

The relative said Thomas and her boyfriend then brought the freezer over along with a microwave to her home, plugging it in because she reportedly didn't want her meat to spoil or be taken. The relative had been in Orlando at the time she learned Janiya had been reported missing, so when she got back she broke open the freezer, finding Janiya.

Thomas' boyfriend, Trayvon McCollough, told investigators that he had helped transport the freezer, at her request. They had been dating since August, he said, and he had seen the freezer in the dinning room of Thomas' apartment. But it was never open, and he said he didn't know anything about Janiya.

Janiya's body was found inside a cardboard box with a FedEx shipping label addressed to Thomas. FedEx confirmed that a package had been delivered to Thomas on Jan. 7.

When investigators conducted a search of Thomas' apartment, they found a rectangular-shaped impression in the carpet in the dinning room area, Meridan stated in the report.

Thomas' former girlfriend told detectives that she lived with Thomas until November 2013, and that Janiya had lived with her grandmother until the spring of 2013. Once when the girl urinated and defecated on herself, the girlfriend said Thomas told her that her mother had "brain washed Janiya and she was going to get her right."

Thomas would make Janiya sit on the toilet for periods of time and kept the apartment very clean with Clorox. The girlfriend said Thomas once put Janiya in water that had so much Clorox that it turned half of Janiya's body red.

On or about Dec. 15, 2014, Thomas' neighbor was called outside by her boyfriend when he found Janiya rummaging through the garbage cans next to the apartment building.

"The child's hair was matted, braided and unkempt," Meridan wrote. "Her clothes was dirty and appeared to be too large for her."

The neighbor had been surprised when she learned Thomas was her mother, because she had never seen or heard of her. Janiya had reportedly been going through the garbage looking for food because she was hungry and her brother had told her to go look for food.

The neighbor made enough food for Janiya and all her siblings, and her boyfriend took Janiya back home. The neighbor then sent Thomas a Facebook message to call her since she knew she was at work, but she never heard from her. When she ran into Thomas in the breezeway a couple days later, Thomas told her that Janiya was her sister's child.

Thomas wrote to the Manatee County School District in January 2015 to say Janiya no longer lived in Manatee County. But in an application for housing assistance dated June 19 and an addendum dated July 14, Janiya was listed as living with her.

Janiya's siblings also detailed how their sister was abused.

A sister "stated that Keishanna Thomas did not like Janiya and would keep her in the bathroom and on the toilet every day because of her incontinence problems," Detective Meridan wrote.

Janiya would sleep naked in the bathroom, and a trunk was kept in front of the door to keep her from escaping, two of her siblings said. Only when Thomas told them to, did they take food to Janiya in the bathroom.

At times the girl managed to escape in attempts to find food. One of those times, Thomas caught her escaping and she took an extension cord from the television and beat her with it, leaving blood splattered on the hallway floor, according to the report.

Obtaining access to Thomas' Facebook account with a search warrant, detectives found pictures of her children -- many showing the freezer -- but none of Janiya. Janiya was only mentioned once during the summer of 2013 and the message from her neighbor in December 2014 had been deleted, the report stated.

Thomas also faces a charge of child abuse of her 12-year-old son in a separate case. She is set to stand trial in May 2016 on that charge.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-7456-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.

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