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Teen murder suspect distrusted by own mother

April 5, 1997

DENVER (AP) _ A 16-year-old girl was convicted Friday of killing the family friend who agreed to watch her while her minister mother was at a weekend church retreat.

Jennifer Tombs, stoic throughout her four-day trial, cried when the jury found her guilty of first-degree murder in the September shooting death of Latanya Lavallais.

She was immediately sentenced to life without parole.

``Today, everybody lost,″ said Lavallais’ sister, Noreen Wilson. ``The only thing is this person will never hurt anybody again. But we didn’t win anything. We just lost two lives for nothing.″

Prosecutor Henry Cooper said he was pleased with the verdict. ``A beautiful person was killed, and Jennifer Tombs will have the rest of her life to think about it.″

Prosecutors portrayed the girl as so intent on going out with her friends on Sept. 27 that she shot Lavallais five times in the back of the head and then cleaned up the mess.

Tombs’ ex-boyfriend, Joaquin Johnson, testified he gave Tombs a .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol because she said she needed it to protect her baby. Johnson said he later found out there was no baby.

Johnson said Tombs called him about 4 a.m. Sept. 28 to say she had shot a woman who had barged into the house.

``But there was no intruder,″ prosecutor Mike Pellow said during closing arguments. ``That was Latanya Lavallais laying dead in the basement with a full clip emptied into her head.″

Defense attorneys argued that Tombs wasn’t in the house when Lavallais was shot.

Police later found shell casings on a counter in Tombs’ home, and the pistol Johnson had loaned Tombs was found under a sewer grate.