CROWN POINT — A 17-year-old girl told a judge she missed her mother and wished she hadn't stabbed her to death before the judge sentenced her Wednesday to 45 years in prison for the "premeditated, heinous murder."
Chastinea T. Reeves, of Gary, who pleaded guilty in May, admitting she stabbed, cut and chopped her 34-year-old mother, Jamie Garnett, more than 60 times Feb. 13, 2017, at their home in the 4400 block of West 23rd Place in Gary.
Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Maureen Koonce said the evidence showed Reeves not only contemplated killing her mother the day of the murder, but had thought about it previously.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell on Wednesday pressed defense attorney John Cantrell and Lake County Deputy Prosecutor Maureen Koonce to explain why Reeves' plea agreement called for the minimum sentence for murder.
"Not only is this a premeditated, heinous murder, it's also your mother," Boswell said. "I don't get it. What are the mitigating factors that caused her to get the minimum?"
Cantrell said Reeves was just 15 when she committed the crime and could be in her 50s by the time she is released.
"She's a child," he said. "She accepted responsibility, and she's remorseful."
'Tell me why you did this'
Boswell said Reeves had not appeared very remorseful during previous court appearances. She asked Reeves to speak for herself.
Reeves stood silent for a time. Cantrell said she was nervous and asked if she could sit while she spoke.
Boswell allowed Reeves to sit and told her to speak up.
"Tell me why you did this," she said. "Why did you feel you had to do this to your mother?"
Reeves mumbled something, and Cantrell told Boswell that Reeves had said she didn't want to talk about it.
Boswell told Reeves this was her chance to explain why she should receive the minimum sentence. Boswell said another option is going to trial, after which she could face a maximum sentence of 65 years.
After a time, Reeves began to talk softly.
"If I could go back, I wouldn't do it again," she said. "I'm only a child, but I know that doesn't excuse it.
"I do miss my mother, and I wish I wouldn't have done it," she said, breaking down into tears.
Grandmother: 'I don't understand'
Boswell told Cantrell and Koonce to offer further arguments.
Koonce said Reeves had no criminal history before her mother's murder, and one of the witnesses in the case would have been Reeves' younger sister — who may have witnessed part of the attack when she was just 3 years old. The DNA evidence in the case was complex, she said.
"We took that all into account," she said.
Boswell asked where Reeves' family was, and grandmother Rosemary Cruz spoke up.
At first, Cruz said she didn't want to speak. She eventually made her way up to the witness stand.
"I don't know exactly what to say," she said.
She loved and misses her daughter, Garnett, she said.
"I don't understand, because she was such a good child," Cruz said of Reeves.
Reeves was on the honor roll and participated in dance.
"All I can ask is that she can receive some type of therapy," she said. "Something's wrong. Something snapped. I hope she can get some type of help mentally to get through what she has done."
Cruz said Garnett loved her girls, and she planned to continue to support Reeves.
"She deserves what she gets. I'm not saying what she did was OK, but I do feel she needs therapy," she said.
After a discussion at the bench with Cantrell and Koonce, Boswell accepted Reeves' plea agreement and sentenced her to 45 years in prison. Reeves received credit for 1,115 days in jail.
The judge ordered Reeves receive a psychological evaluation and any recommended treatment.
As Reeves was escorted out of the court by a female sheriff's officer, her uncle -- Garnett's brother -- shouted out, "We love you, baby."
Reeves' boyfriend, Virgil King, 19, of Gary, and Matthew Martin, 18, of Gary, were co-defendants in the case. They each were charged in July 2017 with assisting a criminal and auto theft in connection with Garnett's homicide.
Martin pleaded guilty in December to felony assisting a criminal and agreed to testify against her. His sentencing is set for Tuesday.
King has pleaded not guilty and is next scheduled to appear in court Monday.
'I'm going to be there for her'
After the hearing, Cruz said she was thankful Boswell granted her request that Reeves receive therapy.
The loss of her daughter at the hands of her granddaughter has been incredibly difficult, she said.
"I'm going to be there for her," she said. "I gave it all to God, and that's how I get by."
Cruz said she chose not to communicate with the prosecutor's office while her granddaughter's case was pending.
"People say they know what I want," she said. "Knowing that my granddaughter did this — it's just horrible."
Still, Cruz loves Reeves and knows it will be difficult for Reeves' younger sister, she said.
"Chas is hurting," she said. "I know she has remorse."
She doesn't bring up Garnett or talk about Reeves unless her younger granddaughter talks about them first, she said.
The girl — now 6 — brings them up all the time, she said. She wears a memorial T-shirt Cruz had made for Garnett to bed, and goes through Cruz's phone looking at family photos.
"She tells me about the good times she and Chas had," she said.
CROWN POINT — Both of the men charged with burglarizing a Hammond church and damaging every room have been released pending trial, records show.
Aaron J. Vanoppens, 23, and Nicholas D. Reding, 22, both of Hammond, each appeared in court this week. Not guilty pleas have been entered on their behalf.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell ordered Vanoppens released from the Lake County Jail on Wednesday with a GPS monitor and wrap-around services. She also required he work on obtaining his GED.
Reding appeared before Boswell on Tuesday without an attorney. Reding who posted a $3,000 cash bond June 10, has a formal appearance set for June 25.
Vanoppens' bond was also set at $30,000 surety or $3,000 cash.
Vanoppens requested a bond review hearing Wednesday, because his family was unable to afford that amount, defense attorney Michael Campbell said.
"I would remind the community he is presumed innocent until proven guilty," Campbell said after court. "Because the case is ongoing, I'm not able to comment further."
A custodian at Faith United Church of Christ, 3030 175th St., discovered the damage the morning of May 29, Lake Criminal Court records state.
An altar, an organ, restrooms, a display case and an office were damaged. The custodian also found a ceiling had fallen, and glass, mirrors and porcelain were shattered.
The vandals wrote "666" on a window outside of the pastor's office and "Hail Satan" on a printer, church members said. Police said the case was "a very juvenile crime of opportunity" and was not believed to be hate-related.
A church elder told police the damage may cost tens of thousands of dollars to repair, records state.
FAIR OAKS — One of the men accused of abusing animals at Fair Oaks Farms was arrested Wednesday, while the other two are still being sought by law enforcement.
Edgar Gardozo Vazquez, 36, of Brook, Indiana, was arrested Wednesday by the Jasper County Sheriff's Department and Indiana State Police and was being held in the Newton County Jail. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has placed a hold on him, police said.
Police are still searching for the other two men — Santiago Ruvalcaba Contreros, 31, and Miguel Angel Navarro Serrano, 38.
The charges came after a video was released last week by a Florida-based animal rights organization, Animal Recovery Mission, showing alleged abuse at Fair Oaks Farms.
A federal lawsuit has also been filed against Fairlife for promoting the "extraordinary care and comfort" of its cows on milk labels after the release of several videos depicting animal abuse at one of its main supplying dairy farms, Fair Oaks Farms.
The suit filed Tuesday by a California man also names Fair Oaks Farms owners Mike and Sue McCloskey as defendants in the alleged fraud case, which seeks class-action status for "all persons in the United States that purchased the milk products."
The plaintiff, Alain Michael, of Thousand Oaks, California, claims he purchased Fairlife milk solely because of the company's guarantee it provided "extraordinary animal care" — a stark contrast from the mistreatment seen in recent videos released by ARM.
"Defendants preyed on consumer desire for dairy products sourced from farms that ensure high levels of animal welfare by making animal welfare claims a central tenet of their labeling campaign," the lawsuit alleges. "But Fairlife’s and its founders’ 'promise' is a sham. Their cows do not receive 'extraordinary care and comfort.' As a matter of routine and practice, Fairlife’s cows are tortured, kicked, stomped on, body slammed, stabbed with steel rebar, thrown off the side of trucks, dragged through the dirt by their ears and left to die unattended in over 100-degree heat. ... To add insult to injury, the abuse is rampant even at Fairlife’s 'flagship farm in Indiana' that customers are urged to visit on the products’ labels."
Fairlife officials said the Chicago-based company, which partners with Coco-Cola, is reviewing the lawsuit.
"Fairlife is committed to the humane and compassionate care of animals," officials said in a statement to The Times. "As we shared last week, we are taking immediate actions to ensure our high standards of animal welfare are being executed at each of our supplying farms."
News conference addresses new footage
A new video released by ARM on Wednesday morning shows adult cows being abused during the milking process allegedly by employees at Fair Oaks Farms.
The recent footage is said to come from a second undercover investigation at the Newton County company by ARM, focusing specifically on the older animals there.
At a news conference Wednesday in Chicago, ARM founder Richard Couto said the group was able to infiltrate an operative into the Fair Oaks milking operation, where the person was hired as a milker. The ARM investigator obtained clandestine video for about 30 days between February and April, Couto said.
Citing the undercover video, Couto said adult cows are milked just hours after giving birth, with the placenta sacks still visible and blood coating their legs. He further alleged newborn calves were sent to open fields during blizzard-like conditions and extreme cold, causing some of the animals to die of exposure.
The second investigation shows animal abuse is a routine occurrence at Fair Oaks Farms, in contrast to the humane image cultivated by farm management, Couto said.
"It's not just four individuals ... it was everyone we worked with," he told reporters, alleging abuse on the part of low-level workers and supervisors alike.
The McCloskeys have not released a statement in light of the new video, where employees are shown striking the cows with their hands and large metal poles as the animals are loaded into the rotary milking system. Some can be seen falling off the metal platform or being kicked for insubordination.
“Workers discipline cows by snapping tails in half,” the video’s narrator says. “Cows are brutalized three times a day, 365 days a year for life.”
The five-minute video is supplemented with a clip of a public tour at Fair Oaks Farms, with the guide telling visitors the cows “want to be there.” It then cuts to cows being abused by employees for failing to stand during milking.
The video’s narrator alleges sick and injured cows are denied medical treatment, later dying as a result.The footage concludes by urging viewers to go dairy free after showing the discarded corpses of cows and calves on company property.
Workers are seen using drugs and transporting calves to a veal farm in North Manchester, as well.
Mike McCloskey said he was unaware calves were being sold to the veal industry, citing a lack of communication between the general manager in charge of livestock sales and himself.
“It was not our practice in the past ... and (I) apologize for the unintended false claim made previously," McCloskey said in a statement to The Times on June 6. "Our bull calves will no longer go to veal."
Fair Oaks Farms accounted for less than 4% of all calves purchased by Midwest Veal, the Wabash County farm shown in the June 4 video by ARM investigators.
As with its earlier operation, ARM has shared its latest videos and a report of investigation with law enforcement, Couto said. The group turned over the new evidence to the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office because the dairy barns where its operative was assigned lie within that jurisdiction.
Couto urged police to send a message by focusing their investigation on farm management instead of low-level workers.
“Blaming lower-tier workers … and doing nothing to management — it will all be for nothing,” he said, adding that misdemeanor arrests were “a waste of time.”
Alongside having random audits frequented at Fair Oaks Farms, McCloskey announced June 6 that cameras will be installed around the farms in areas where interactions between animals and employees occur.
McCloskey said the camera's footage will be watched by a trained animal welfare professional and put on public display for visitors.
“I am committed to never again have to watch a video of our animals suffering the way that they suffered," McCloskey said June 6 in a video posted to Fair Oaks Farms' Facebook page. "I guarantee you that this will never happen again at Fair Oaks Farms."
On Wednesday, Couto blasted McCloskey’s response to the ARM investigation, accusing him of hiding behind carefully edited “YouTube videos” instead of directly addressing the media.
“We took a tour (at Fair Oaks) mere days ago, and again they are still lying to the public” about the treatment of cows, Couto told reporters.
Couto also called on Coca-Cola, which markets and distributes Fairlife products nationally, to cut ties with the brand.
ARM and its founder
Founded by Couto in 2010, ARM conducts undercover investigations — similar to what has been done at Fair Oaks Farms — using "direct-action" techniques in hopes of exposing abuse and "extreme criminal acts" committed against animals, according to the group's website.
Last spring, Couto said he visited the Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure and saw what he perceived as “red flags” during the presentation.
“Knowing what I know about the dairy industry, it all seemed very staged," Couto said. "I went home and quickly put together Operation Fair Oaks Farms Dairy Adventure."
On its website, the nonprofit organization lists more than 30 operations it's conducted, including at alleged illegal slaughter farms, animal fighting rings and dairy farms.
For 2019, ARM received an overall score of 55.69 out of 100 from Charity Navigator, a national charity assessment group that looks at an organization's finances, accountability and transparency, according to Charity Navigator's website.
ARM's recent score is based on data from fiscal year 2017, when the most recent IRS form 990 revealed the nonprofit's financial data, the website states.
The Times writers Anna Ortiz and Will Racke contributed to this story.