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Long before a baby died, a Tampa girl knew fear and confusion

TAMPA — A decade ago, Tommie Reeves was sentenced to life imprisonment for raping a girl repeatedly over three years, beginning at age 7. He was her babysitter. He beat her and tied her up.

After his conviction, his young victim, Swazikki Davis, struggled to feel safe with a man. Finally, after two pregnancies, she met one who threw rose petals at her feet.

The man she came to trust is now accused of killing her baby. Damarcus Kirkland-Williams, 21, is charged with first-degree murder. Investigators say he admitted throwing her son, Ezekiel, against a dresser on May 18.

Court records show Davis was reluctant to give up her boyfriend.

Records also confirm the childhood sexual abuse. Davis, as a girl, was put in foster care after Reeves' arrest. She said she lived in 19 foster homes before age 18.

Davis fully described those experiences Tuesday at her mother's home in Tampa Heights.

Until now, Davis hasn't said anything about her childhood or its impact on her life.

Her actions have been something of a mystery. Earlier in the month, she refused to give Kirkland-Williams' name to child protection investigators.

Investigators had tried to find out why Davis' 2-year-old daughter had bruises all over her body. Davis told them the girl was pigeon-toed and tended to fall down a lot. But other family members said they suspected her new boyfriend. They knew him only as "Slim."

Davis finally identified Kirkland-Williams after her daughter was placed in foster care, and Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan raised concerns about Ezekiel, who was still in the home.

Despite a May 9 court order for Davis to keep her boyfriend away, caseworkers found Kirkland-Williams back in the home on May 13 and on the day of Ezekiel's death. The tragedy has prompted an investigation of state policies for protecting children.

Since the death, Davis stays at her mother's house, while her mother goes out on the street with a sign trying to raise money for Ezekiel's funeral.

On Tuesday, Davis described her own childhood as one of fear and confusion. Her mother worked several jobs, one as a nurse at Tampa General Hospital, and relied on babysitters.

Babysitter Tommie Reeves was the boyfriend of Davis' older sister.

As a 7-year-old, Davis said, she couldn't find the words to tell her mother she'd been raped by Reeves. "I didn't even know the word 'molested,' " she said. "I just knew it wasn't right, it wasn't normal."

Her younger brother, Nathaniel, 18, said Reeves molested him, too. He was just 6. He said he never told anyone except Swazikki.

After Reeves' conviction, both children were placed in foster care. Davis' first foster mother was a kindly woman named Lillie Igles, who pushed her to do well in school and kept her until she was 13, when Igles suffered a stroke.

That changed everything. Davis spent the next five years bouncing around foster homes. Her grades fell. She changed schools almost as often as homes. She was afraid of boys and couldn't stand for them to get close to her.

"I just liked staying in corners," she said. "I liked being by myself in dark rooms, all quiet. I still like that."

At 18, she found a boyfriend and got pregnant. The couple moved to Alabama. Four months after her daughter was born, Davis got pregnant again with Ezekiel. She began arguing with her boyfriend. He didn't want to support her anymore. Her mother, who was mostly unknown to her during foster care years, came and took her home to Tampa.

Back in Tampa, Davis swore she was through with men until she met Kirkland-Williams. He seemed different. He was an old-fashioned suitor. He spread rose petals on her doorstep and slipped love notes under the door. He brought her breakfast in bed. They had a rule: no cussing in front of the kids.

When Davis was confronted with her daughter's bruises and told to keep Kirkland-Williams away, she said she barely tried.

"I knew he was supposed to stay away," she said. "I was upset, but I didn't show it to him. I don't argue. I'm a quiet person. I've never been in a fight in my life."

Davis and her brother, Nathaniel, now mostly stay at their mother's house. Nathaniel said he is the peacemaker. The two women tend to argue.

Her mother, Mary Davis, said everything Swazikki said is true, but the immediate concern is to pay for Ezekiel's funeral. On Tuesday she stood on N Florida Avenue in front of Home Depot, asking passersby for donations.

Davis said her mother has told her to put her childhood horrors in the past, to move on. "The past is the past," her mother says. "Look at the future."

Davis doesn't understand men. "I don't understand why they want to get girls pregnant when they don't want babies."

Davis gets by on disability payments for scoliosis, she said. She'd like to be a nurse, but that seems impossibly far off. She started taking antidepressants after Ezekiel's death. "I'm not eating," she said. "I'm not sleeping."

She recalled that when she was a little girl, Tommie Reeves used to drive her to elementary school. On the way, he'd rape her at nearby Copeland Park.

She just can't forget Copeland Park.

"I never want to go there again."

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. John Barry can be reached at 813-226-3383 or jbarry@sptimes.com.

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Baby's funeral expenses

The family of the baby, Ezekiel Mathis, is unable to pay for his funeral. If you would like to assist, please contact Aikens Funeral Home, 2708 E Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Tampa, 33610; or call the funeral home at (813) 232-8725.

Long before a baby died, a Tampa girl knew fear and confusion 05/24/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 12:03am]
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