Slain Kathleen girl tried to stop sister from running away

wcrenshaw@macon.comJuly 26, 2013 

collins_plea

Carmen Collins, right, listens Friday to her attorney respond to Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig's recitation of the facts she was pleading guilty to in connection with the murder of her sister, India Ja’Nai Collins, and the arson of the family's home in 2012.

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PERRY -- For more than a year Carmen Collins claimed she did not kill her little sister, but two weeks ago she told her attorney she was ready to come clean.

The Kathleen teenager pleaded guilty Friday to malice murder and arson in the July 3, 2012, slaying of 12-year-old India Ja’Nai Collins. After shooting her sister, Carmen Collins also set fire to the family home.

Other charges against Collins, now 18, including felony murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, burglary and auto theft, were dropped.

Superior Court Judge Edward Lukemire sentenced her to life in prison. She will be eligible for parole in 30 years.

District Attorney George Hartwig gave a detailed account of what the state believed happened in the case, and Public Defender Nick White said he agreed with it.

Hartwig said the parents had left the house when India caught her sister packing to run away. She tried to stop her and threatened to call their parents. Collins then got her father’s .40-caliber handgun and shot India six times. He said Collins chased her sister through the house shooting at her, and five of the shots were in the back. The final shot, in the foyer where the body was found, was fired while Collins stood over her sister, Hartwig said.

She then retrieved two gas cans from a shed, poured the gasoline around the house and set it on fire. She fled in a car with the family dog to Columbus, where she was arrested two days later.

“This situation is a no-win, unbearable situation for these parents,” Hartwig told the judge. “They have basically lost both of their daughters. Our thoughts and prayers go out to these parents. This is a horrible situation.”

White said Collins set the blaze because she wanted her parents to believe India had died in an accidental fire.

Hartwig said Collins confessed after she was arrested. However, White said she told his office that she only confessed because she feared the people who really did it.

He said she maintained that story up until two weeks ago. The case had been set to go to trial in August.

“She told me she wanted to admit what she did because she wants to take responsibility for it,” White said. “The weight of what she did was bearing on her and was too great.”

Throughout the recounting of the events and the rest of hearing, Collins sat with barely a flinch. She didn’t speak except to answer the judge’s questions affirmatively when he asked if she understood the plea agreement and the sentence.

Her mother, Angela Collins, wept through much of the hearing. Prior to the sentencing, she spoke to the judge and smiled at her daughter as she walked past the defense table. She said while Carmen Collins, who was 17 at the time of the slaying, had run away a couple of times she was respectful and had never been violent.

“Our girls were very close,” she said. “They loved each other. ... We look forward to the day Carmen is back with us, and we still love her and always will. We will love her and support her through any and everything.”

Both Angela Collins and White said Carmen Collins’ problems began over the year before the shooting when she had taken up with a group of people in Columbus.

“She had fallen in with a very dangerous crowd over there, through some friends she knows here in Houston,” White said. “It was her intention to go there. Her sister knew that and threatened to call her parents and do anything she could do to the point of standing in the doorway to keep her from leaving.”

White said she initially blamed the shooting on people from Columbus. Both the Houston County Sheriff’s Department and the public defender’s office investigated that claim, and nothing was found to corroborate it, White said.

White called Carmen Collins “troubled” but said he had two doctors examine her, and both determined she is competent.

Angela Collins and other family members declined to comment after the hearing.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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