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Learning to hit a lick

Falicia Blakely was a 16-year-old dancer when she met a pimp 11 years her senior. Within two years, she'd be a prostitute facing the death penalty for three murders.

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In the 17 months Falicia's been locked up, she's earned a sort of notoriety on the fourth floor, for obvious reasons. Multiple-murderers are scarce. Teenage female multiple-murderers are practically unheard of. Yet those who meet her are quick to point out that, outwardly at least, Falicia bears little resemblance to the Hollywood image of depraved killer. Her smile shows a row of porcelain teeth, perfectly aligned like white tiles. Her manicured fingernails are meticulously squared. Slender chin-length braids, which she sometimes ties up in a girlish ponytail, barely fray at the ends. Her face is clear, her eyes unclouded. Nothing about her fresh looks or plaintive demeanor suggests anything but a normal young adulthood. Only after she gets into the details does it becomes obvious she's much older than her years.

Born and raised on the east side of Jacksonville, Fla., an only child bounced between a single mother and weary grandmother, Falicia hit puberty young and ran with it. Before high school, she dated men three decades her senior. Her full breasts and long, lean frame (she was a track and field star in ninth grade) belied her barely pubescent age. She had no problem getting into clubs. Once inside, she learned how easy it was to make up for years of lost affection. Men flocked. They gave her money for virtually nothing [17].

She attracted her first sugar daddy at 14. Most of the men she only dated, luring them with sex but never bedding them. They in turn took care of her financially.

Falicia bought her own school clothes, put food in her grandmother's cupboard, paid the tab at the laundromat, covered the costs of her cousin's salon visits. Spending on others was a source of pride for her, as well as a source of petulance. No one ever could tell her what to do - not when she had so much control over their world and hers.

While men held the ticket to power for Falicia, they were not meant to wield power over her. Or so she thought. Odds were, though, it wouldn't be long before she met the wrong guy. The bad decisions would inevitably follow. For those decisions, she blames herself.

"When you're out there and you're living that fast life, you can never say what you wouldn't do. Growing up, I never wanted to hurt nobody and never wanted to wrong anybody. When I was coming up, I never thought I'd be sitting here because" - she takes a long, rare pause - "I took some peoples' lives. And it's bad enough it wasn't one. It was three."

The pause was her third in an hours-long exploration of her life and crimes. The first followed the sole question about her father.

She'd broken eye contact and gazed off toward the guards, sustaining a long silence. She turned back and said, "Who is Daddy?" It was the softest, possibly most sarcastic voice you've ever heard. "No, Daddy wasn't there. He struggled with a drug addiction real bad" [18].

The only other time she paused like that was after she was asked, "When did you meet Michael Berry?" It was the first mention of his name.

SEPTEMBER 1999-JANUARY 2001

Falicia's ticket to Atlanta showed up in her grandmother's mailbox a few days shy of her 16th birthday.

"I don't want to go," she said.

"Maybe it's best for you to go," her grandmother told her.

Falicia's mother had decided it was time she took responsibility for her daughter again. That meant Falicia would be sent to Atlanta, where her mother, who worked for a flooring distributor, had been transferred. Falicia was told to box up her things and Fed-Ex them to her mother's new home, and to get on the plane.

At first, it was quiet between them in their two-bedroom townhouse in the southwest corner of the city. Falicia was holding tight to a grudge, one that began with a conversation she tried to have with her mother more than three years ago. Falicia recalls walking into her mother's bedroom to explain she'd lost her virginity. Her mother rolled onto her boyfriend, mumbling, "Give me another year" [19].

"I bring it to you, and you ain't got enough time to talk to me about it?" To Falicia, it was the ultimate snub at the end of a long line of indifference. "Both of y'all are in the bed. Why y'all can't explain to me the goods and the bads about it?"

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