Woman gets 15 to life in prison for 1995 toddler murder
Husband gets 4 years for the death
BARSTOW • Evelyn Graves said she believes justice is in the hands of God.
For 16 years, Evelyn and her sister, Jacquetta Graves, dreamed of the day they would finally taste justice for their baby brother — a Barstow toddler who was stomped to death in front of his young siblings by his aunt in 1995.
But when justice was served to Duree Pettress, 55, who was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in prison, the Graves sisters say the day they’d dreamed of for most of their lives was less than what they expected.
“When I was younger, I thought one day I would get him justice and I didn’t expect it to end like this,” Jacquetta Graves said after the sentencing hearing. “I’m just glad that it’s over and we did get some justice.”
The sisters wished Pettress was convicted of first-degree murder, a sentence of 25 years to life.
Even more disappointing, they said, was the sentence given to their uncle, Lafayette Pettress, 58, who received four years in prison Thursday. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, but the jury convicted him with involuntary manslaughter instead.
“I definitely wish they both would have gotten equal time, but, I mean, it’ll never take away the pain,” Evelyn Graves said.
Tycoon Graves, 3, died Dec. 6, 1995, after being stomped by his aunt for sneaking a piece of pizza. Police originally investigated the Pettresses, who were the legal guardians of the Graves children, but closed the case after Evelyn Graves, 9 at the time, took the blame for the beating. Evelyn Graves testified she took the blame after her aunt threatened to kill her, too. It wasn’t until Jacquetta Graves came to police with a different story in 2011 that the case was reopened.
During Duree Pettress’ sentencing hearing Friday morning, Evelyn Graves described the “excruciating pain” her brother’s death has caused the family.
“The day my brother died, a part of the family went with him. We were destroyed mentally, emotionally and physically,” Evelyn Graves said to her aunt, who sat wearing handcuffs, her face emotionless as Evelyn Graves spoke. “What makes it worse is that the crime was committed in the hands of our relatives that never showed any remorse and allowed me to take blame.”
After the incident, Evelyn Graves said she moved from foster home to foster home, while the rest of her siblings eventually returned to live with their father. Because Evelyn Graves took the blame for Tycoon’s death, she was not allowed to live with her family because there were safety concerns for her siblings. She didn’t see her family for years at a time.
The sisters feel if they could have spoken more about the abuse in the home before Tycoon’s death, the jury may have decided on harsher convictions.
Though the trial did discuss the abuse in the home briefly, Deputy District Attorney Joel Buckingham said he was limited by law with how much he could bring that abuse into evidence.
“There are times in this job when it is clear that the justice the legal system can deliver just doesn’t make up for the damage,” Buckingham said. “That’s the way that it was with Tycoon.”
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