Christa’s state appointed lawyers failed to present any mitigating evidence of her history of sexual violence and abuse to the jury, and her sentence is also disproportionate to the other two defendants who were involved.
In January 1995, Christa (age 18), Tadaryl Shipp (age 17), and Shadolla Peterson (age 19) killed another teenaged girl, Colleen Slemmer, also a young Job Corps student. The murder was sensationalized because a pentagram had been carved into the victim’s chest—a reflection of the Satanic imagery which fascinated Tadaryl. The media pounced on this detail and attributed it to Christa, painting her as a demonic teenaged killer and describing the murder as an “occult” event linked to “devil worship.”
Christa’s jury never heard about her mental illness, brain damage, and history of rape and abuse. Her lawyer was completely unprepared to explain to the jury why they should spare her. Rather than present the mitigating evidence gathered by his investigator, he called Christa’s parents to testify. They defended their treatment of Christa and made no mention of the physical and sexual violence she had endured. The jury never learned about her Bipolar Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and how it affected her behavior at the time of the crime.
Despite their similar ages, Christa received a disproportionate sentence to her co-defendants. Tadaryl Shipp was ineligible for the death penalty under Tennessee law since he was seventeen years old at the time. Shipp is currently in prison serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 2026. The other co-defendant, Shadolla Peterson, cooperated with investigators and walked away with probation.
A life sentence would be consistent with Tennessee’s treatment of Tadaryl Shipp. It would also be consistent with justice, as it would reflect the punishment imposed on other young people who, like Christa, committed crimes while they lacked the maturity and reasoning of responsible adults.