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Learning to hit a lick Part II

The first part of "Learning to Hit a Lick," chronicled a teenager's passage from strip club dancer to murderous prostitute. This week, the story picks up minutes after the shooting deaths of Ray Goodwin and Claudell "Doc" Christmas.

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Apart from some minor differences, Pumpkin's story went the same way [36].

Neither version, however, mentions a pimp named Mike. It took months for Falicia's public defenders to get her to describe her relationship with Michael Berry the way it already had been described to police by other witnesses. "It took time for her to distance herself from that man," says one of Falicia's attorneys, Claudia Saari, "and from that life."

With or without Mike, Falicia had little in the way of a defense against three counts of murder. But then, five months after the capture, DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney Tom Clegg announced during a pretrial hearing that the state would be going for the death penalty. A different set of challenges arose.

"I think that was the day it just hit her in the face, hard. She started crying and said, 'I'm only 18 years old, and I haven't even finished high school. This is not how I had planned my life,'" says Falicia's other attorney, Ken Driggs. "And then it reached a point where she just really wanted to tell her story. It was very important to her that people understood that she wasn't a monster."

In the weeks before her case was set to go to trial, in February 2004, Falicia made a deal. The state would drop the death penalty component if she'd plead guilty to the three murders and accept three life sentences without parole [37].

The actual capital punishment part would've been a technicality, anyway. Last year, through blood tests routinely done on jail inmates, Falicia learned she is HIV-positive [38]. Shortly after that, in spring 2003, she called Mike from jail. It would be their last conversation.

"He brushed me off. He was like, 'Oh well,'" Falicia recalls, sitting in a glassed-in isolation room on the fourth floor of the northeast tower of the DeKalb County Jail. "He really didn't care. He don't have a conscious, and he don't have a heart. This man is still living his life, and he's going on about his life" [39].

News of her infection changed her attorneys' course. They now had to coach her less like legal counselors and more like surrogate parents wanting to help a despairing girl cope with a senseless past and hopeless future.

"A part of our job in helping her is answering, 'How could she have got to this point? What happened to her to lead her to do this?'" Saari says. "She realized immediately what she had done was wrong, of course. She felt this tremendous grief over what she'd done. But why she made those decisions to do what she did took a little bit longer. It took a lot of us saying, 'Look at your life.'"

What they found, they took with them to Falicia's plea hearing. Falicia wanted the victims' families to know at least a little about her past. And she'd been hoping for months to speak to them directly.

***

On Jan. 16, 2004, prosecutor Clegg briefly laid out in a DeKalb County courtroom the details of the murders of Ray, Doc and Mechi. There was no jury, just the judge, Falicia, her attorneys, her family and the families of Mechi, Doc and Ray.

Smokey wasn't there. She says she couldn't handle it. "I knew it was going to be her apology," she says, "and I didn't want to hear her apology."

After what happened to Marion and Ray, Smokey is convinced she can't trust anyone anymore - not in a world where a person who claims to care for you can turn around and kill you. Marion's boyfriend loved her. He also shot her, from behind, over and over in the head and back. Falicia was Ray's friend. And she also shot him from behind, over and over.

Smokey's sister, Sherita, did manage to go to the hearing, just as she did 12 years earlier when Marion's boyfriend was sentenced. After that first experience, Sherita had managed to find some strength. She named her first daughter Marion. But after Ray, she fell apart. "I had lost, again, another best friend. It's like somebody just cut my heart open and just picked little pieces out of it."

Sherita was recovering from a hysterectomy when Ray died. As a result of the trauma of losing Ray, which was compounded by her weakened state from the surgery, Sherita has been prescribed three anti-depressants for the past year-and-a-half. She says she suffered a nervous breakdown a year ago [40].

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