ROCKDALE COUNTY, Ga. — It was a chilling crime: teenage twin sisters who viciously killed their mother and told police they were the victims.
Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead signed a plea agreement in their case. They confessed, and got 30 years behind bars. But what came before their confessions shows a twisted web of lies.
While their fate is sealed, their case file is not. Through an Open Records request, 11Alive obtained critical evidence that never made it to a courtroom: crime scene photos, interrogation tapes, surveillance video and, finally, the girls' taped confessions.
Editor's note: This series of investigations originally aired and was published in 2014. Dateline NBC is re-airing the story in December 2019. January 2020 marks 10 years since the crime that shocked the community.
Sisters initially claimed innocence
Identical twins share everything: birthdays, clothing -- even DNA. However, twin sisters Jasmiyah and Tasmiyah Whitehead also share a dark past. They admitted to killing their mother -- a confession that came after months of lying to cover it up.
"Twin girls had come home and found their mother deceased," said Rockdale County District Attorney Richard Read. At first glance, police believed their story: the two sweet 16-year-old girls had just discovered a gruesome scene.
"It was the bloodiest scene I think I've ever been to," said Lt. Chris Moon of the Conyers Police Department.
On Jan. 13, 2010, one of the twins flagged down a passing police car to come inside their home, where they claimed they had discovered a crime scene. Conyers police found their mother, Jarmecca "Nikki" Whitehead, the victim of a brutal attack, dead and submerged in a bathtub.
"As soon as you opened the door, you could smell the blood, the copper iron smell in the air," said Moon.
The girls, known as Tas and Jas, were described as visibly distraught and were taken into the care of Conyers police.
"You can come sit over here, sweetheart, you can come sit over here," a detective is heard telling the girls on the interrogation tapes.
The girls describe to the police and on tape what they saw.
"I heard Jas scream and all I saw blood all over the floor," said Tasmiyah.
"We were treating them as victims -- witnesses who had come home and found their mother dead," said Lt. Moon.
The girls, who were clearly aware of the camera, continued to appear distraught and tearful.
"She's not going to come back," muttered Jasmiyah through tears.
Several times Jas asked for her mother.
"I want my mommy," she said.
Her sister comforted her.
"You've gotta be strong because I'm going to make sure they find the person who did it," said Tasmiyah.
The girls tell police how the scene was shocking and scary.
"I looked and there was blood in front of the door like a line of blood, like someone had dragged her in there like it is on TV," said Tasmiyah.
Tasmiyah essentially described what the twins did themselves, only pretending it was an unknown suspect.
"There were drag marks that went from the living room into the master bedroom and into the master bathroom," said Moon.
Jas actually admitted to touching her mother's dead body.
"I went into her room and I saw blood all over the floor and I went in there and I seen her and I touched her," she said.
But just that morning police would discover that she not only touched her, she cut her, bit her, and, along with her sister, nearly severed her spinal cord, which ultimately killed her.
"That night we started to have suspicions -- just something didn't add up, something didn't seem right," said Read.
The more answers the girls gave, the more questions that came.
Detective: What time did y'all leave the house this morning?
Jasmiyah: We missed the bus so we had to walk.
Detective: You walked all the way to Rockdale?
Tasmiyah: It's not far.
Surveillance tape, also from the evidence file, shows the girls only walked to a gas station and hitchhiked to school with a stranger.
Detective: Is that the clothes you wore to school today?
They arrived there two hours late - as seen on school surveillance camera. By that point, police began to get suspicious.
Detective: Hey girls, we're going to have to get you guys some clothes and I'll tell you why: you were in the crime scene.
Police also discover the girls have had a history of domestic troubles with their mother for years, as evident by a handwritten letter recovered by police. It was sent from Jas to her boyfriend. She wrote, "I just hate living here being with her."
"I told her that I wish she were dead and she really did die. I told her that plenty of times and she never died," said Tasmiyah.
Presumably to hide injuries, both girls wore gloves indoors, but police quickly noticed and asked they be removed.
Detective: Let me see your hands and arms, what happened here,
Jasmiyah: I got in a fight with her here.
Jasmiyah pointed to her sister, but the fight was actually with their mother.
"They both had what could have scratch marks or bite marks on their arms," said Read.
Detectives decided it was time to separate the girls.
Detective: Tas, Iwant you to come out here with me, I want to talk to you sister.
Tas: Why do y'all have to separate us?
Detective: Because we need to talk to you separate. I know it sounds mean, but it's really not.
The police were about to get each version of the story, and unlike the twins, they would be far from identical.
Teens' trail of lies begins to unravel
After being separated, the twins tried to stick to their story, but being apart seemed to wear them down.
The firmer police got, the more lies the girls told. With fresh cuts and bites on both their hands and arms, they first told police they got in a fight with each other. Then they exchanged that lie for another.
"The twins were claiming the bite marks they had were self-inflicted -- that it's a nervous reaction they would have," said Lt. Chris Moon of the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.
Jas tried to act out that lie for the cameras as she bit her own hands. Meanwhile, her sister Tas, also aware of the camera, performed another act.
"I can't eat, mom is dead. Stupid scratch, they are going to blame this whole thing on me because of a stupid scratch," Tas said.
She prayed aloud, hoping to catch her mother's killer.
"Please God -- I really want them to catch this person," Tasiyah said.
The girls went home with their great grandmother that night. They went to school, had a social life and perhaps started to believe they had gotten away with it. But all the while, police were watching them and building a case.
Nearly four months later, their time was up.
"Once we got them both arrested, we got the car mic'ed up to listen to them in case they said something incriminating," said Lt. Moon.
An audio recording of the girls on the day of their arrest captured their conversation:
Jas: They're talking about the damn bite marks.
Tas: Yeah, they're saying that I have momma's teeth on my arm.
The twins tone had changed.
Tas: I'm not going down for something I did not do.
Jas: Me either.
Tas: The day that you find a murder weapon with my fingerprints on it or something -- please do that. Please find a murder weapon and then it will be different. For real.
The two sweet victimized twins were long gone.
"Just the anger coming out in the voice again, talking about how terrible our evidence was and how if you want to charge me find a murder weapon," Lt. Moon said.
Jas: What the [expletive] are we waiting for?
Tas: They having [expletive] coffee and donuts and having a jolly old time. They don't care.
Once in custody and jumpsuits -- faced with a murder trial, that tone would change again when the girls finally break down and give their taped confession.
In chilling detail, the twins described what really happened the morning of the murder.
It started with a fight with their mother in the kitchen after waking up late for school.
"You're late for school, you're not going to do what you want to do, you have to live by my rules," the mother said, according to Rockdale County District Attorney Richard Read.
The twins said their mother began threatening them with a pot from the stove.
"She just started waving the pot around things like that, whatever, so I guess she was trying to hit us with the pot," said Jasmiyah.
The twins claim they wrestled the pot away from her, but it was the start of an all-out brawl.
"Was your mom yelling," asked Read.
"We all yelling, we all mad. Somehow, someway I don't know where she got it from, I don't even remember a knife block but she has a knife," said Jasmiyah.
"I had took the pot from her, that's when she grabbed the knife and said get back but she didn't keep the knife in her hand," added Tasmiyah.
The combat moved to the living room and got more intense. Jas broke a red vase over her mother's head -- the first sight of blood. Her mother fought back.
"So my mom is winning the battle with the knife or whatever, so I pick up the pot and hit her with the pot," said Tasmiyah.
"She bit me in the chest and like I said, I'm not that that big, so when she bit me she latched on to me and I tried to get her off because it hurts so I'm trying to punch her, I guess that then Tas stabs her. She stabbed her," said Jasmiyah.
After more fighting, Jas said at some point she begins to choke her mother with a ribboned medallion she won as a child. Her mother delivered a swift backhand blow that caught her by surprise.
"So I think I was stunned. Then I picked up the knife and I think I stabbed her but they wasn't cuts like they wasn't deep because I couldn't bring myself to do it," said Jasmiyah.
After all the biting, punching, screaming and stabbing, the twins dragged their mother in to the bathtub. Neither can really explain why they did.
Read: So you had her hands?
Tasmiyah: I think I was at the top.
Read: And Jas had her feet?
Tasmiyah: Yes, she was heavy.
Read: And so what did y'all do?
Tasmiyah: We put her in the tub
Jarmecca Whitehead was in the tub and was still alive. The twins both recall her talking to them as she was dying.
Read: What's she say?
Jasmiyah: That she hates us, she hates us. I guess the same thing we're going to jail, we're going to jail
Read: What are you saying to her?
Jasmiyah: I'm sorry, I told her I was sorry not just sorry for things but sorry for everything that we couldn't get along and stuff.
A few minutes later the twin claimed their domestic troubles with mom would be permanently over.
"She went under a couple of times and that was it," said Jasmiyah.
"When that was it -- I'm going to use your words-- when that was it what did you and your sister do," asked Read.
"I guess we were just shocked. We couldn't believe what we did. We cried, we cried for a long time. We argued a bit," said Jasmiyah.
But then the girls collected themselves. After trying to clean up some, they thought it best to leave the crime scene and headed to school.
"We got her purse, cell phone and got the knife and the pot and put it in a plastic bag," said Jasmiyah.
The girls admit that when they returned, they expected the police would be there and their mother would not. The sight of what they had done was a shock.
"Just really wish it didn't happen like that and I wish I could have solved something. I do I wish…sorry...It was just confusion and turmoil and it never stopped," cried Tasmiyah.
The girls claim they wished they would have called police during the fight rather than hours after the murder and been truthful from the start. They wish they still had a mother.
"I'm sorry and I miss her. It's not how y'all are trying to make it seem. I didn't hate her. And Tas didn't hate her either. I guess it was just the heat of the moment and the anger between all three of us," said Jasmiyah.
In January 2014, Tasmiyah Whitehead pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, making false statements and possession of a knife during a crime. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison. She's serving that sentence at Arrendale State Prison.
In February 2014, Jasmiyah Whitehead also pleaded guilty to the same charges and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. She's serving her sentence at Pulaski State Prison
Not much has been heard from the twin sisters since they began serving their 30-year sentences.
But one year after 11Alive's initial investigation aired, we caught a glimpse of what Jasmiyah Whitehead was up to in prison:
The sisters last known prison mug shots:
The Whitehead sisters today