EDWARDSVILLE — LaToya Franklin has been living in a nightmare since her son disappeared, and still has not escaped it.
Franklin's son was Cermen "C.J." Toney, and his murderer was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Kevin Reid, 58, was found guilty in March of killing Anquiaette Parker, a 19-year-old pregnant woman from East St. Louis, in a November 2005 drug deal gone bad. He then killed her 4-year-old cousin C.J., who apparently witnessed Parker's murder, and threw their bodies into a cistern in State Park Place. Their bodies were found in early 2008.
"I never thought that when I dropped him off that Friday that that would be the last time I will see him," Franklin said. "I'm his mom, I'm supposed to protect him."
Forensic results showed that Parker had been stabbed 23 times, 14 times in her head. C.J., however, was stabbed once, and may have been trying to get free of duct-tape bindings as he died, according to prosecutor Jennifer Vucich's closing arguments.
Reid originally faced the death penalty, which was eliminated in Illinois before he went to trial. The minimum possible sentence for two convictions of first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole, which Madison County Circuit Judge James Hackett imposed on Tuesday. Reid also was convicted of the intentional homicide of Parker's unborn child.
In her victim impact statement, Franklin said C.J.'s disappearance sent her into "a very dark place," spending days, months and years wondering if her son was alive. She said she used to dream that she found C.J. in a store or walking with someone, and she would run to him and say, "Mommy got you."
"Then I will wake up in disappointment, hugging a pillow," Franklin said.
Franklin said she held out hope for a long time, but when the call came to tell her that the bodies had been found, she dropped the phone and fell to the floor. Since then, she has suffered from depression, and has not been able to bring herself to bury C.J.'s cremated remains.
"How could I get my baby back in a cardboard box?" she said. "I felt like if I was to bury him, how could I walk away? How could I get in the car and drive away and leave him there ... I never want to leave him again."
Franklin said the loss of her son has had an impact on the rest of the family as well: her husband, her 4-year-old daughter, Kelsey, and 16-year-old son, Travis. "I know I get on (Travis') nerves because I really don't let him do anything," she said. "I know he is growing up. And I'm slowly letting him do things now."
She said it has been hard to leave Kelsey with any care provider, and sometimes she sits in the car after dropping her off and cries because she is afraid someone will take her.
"I live in fear every day for my kids; it's hard living like this," Franklin said. "My baby boy was taken away from me in a senseless and violent way. I know my baby was so afraid, and I know he called for me and ... I wasn't there to save him."
Reid spoke briefly at his sentencing, maintaining his innocence. "Anybody who knows me or took the time to find out who I was would know I could never do anything like this," he said. "You're sending the wrong man to prison, and I'm very sorry for their loss."
Before sentencing, defense attorney John Rekowski made several motions challenging Hackett's rulings during the trial, alleging that the court departed from its role as an impartial judge. Hackett denied the motions, calling them "petty, groundless insults" and said he did not recall such "discourteous behavior" in 19 years as a judge.
"This is a very serious allegation that has no grounding in the record of this case," Hackett said. "Shame on you, Mr. Rekowski."
Rekowski also indicated they intend to appeal Reid's conviction.
Franklin spoke from her prepared statement, and wept on the witness stand. She said she lives with the pain every second of her life. As her voice broke, her family members also began to weep in the front row of the courtroom.
"Kevin Reid could've just let my baby go. He could've just left him in the car," Franklin said. "Kevin Reid killed my baby just because he was there. C.J. did not know what was going on. He was only 4 years old."
Franklin said she has "closure," but everything good is now bittersweet because C.J. should be there. She and her husband bought a house, and she said C.J. should be there to decorate his room and play in the back yard with his sisters and brothers.
"You deserve to be locked up in a cage, because you are an animal," she told Reid. "You deserve to die a lonely old man in prison. You showed no remorse. And I have no remorse for you. You are a coward. You had to kill a pregnant young woman and a defenseless 4-year-old boy... Not only did you kill my baby boy C.J., you killed a part of me also."
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 618-239-2507.