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West Philly woman seeks justice after man confessed to killing her daughter

Tamika Watson's anger is directed not just at the man who confessed in 2016 to killing her daughter six years earlier, but also at Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who has not charged him with the murder.

Tamika Watson, flanked by her daughters Tia Finks and Asia Seldon, is outraged that the District Attorney's Office has not charged the man who confessed to killing her daughter.
Tamika Watson, flanked by her daughters Tia Finks and Asia Seldon, is outraged that the District Attorney's Office has not charged the man who confessed to killing her daughter.Read moreMENSAH M. DEAN / Staff

Family bonds are evident at Tamika Watson's West Philadelphia home. On a recent afternoon, young grandchildren from two of her daughters frolicked on the porch. On a living room wall, a decorative keyholder was adorned with a reminder: Don't Forget Let ♥ Rule.

A plaque proclaimed: Family Rules / Help each other / Always tell the truth / Share / Do your best / Pay with hugs and kisses.

But all was not well with Watson, 44, a certified nursing assistant. Tears came quickly when she spoke of her firstborn, Nakeisha Finks, hinting at the pain and anger with which Watson and her family have wrestled for nearly a decade.

Watson's anger is directed not just at James Barrow, 32, who confessed in February 2016 to killing Finks six years earlier, but also at the man who has not charged Barrow with murder: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

Making matters worse, said Watson and her daughters, Tia Finks, 27, and Asia Seldon, 23, no one from Krasner's office will speak to them about the case — either on the telephone or when they've stopped by the District Attorney's Office in Center City.

That's why the family did not know about a three-day court hearing in April during which the confessed killer's video-recorded interview with city detectives was played for the first time in open court. Barrow confessed to details about the slaying that only the killer would have known, detectives testified.

"Why would you think that that's not important to tell me about my daughter's murder case?" Watson asked, seated at her dining room table, her daughters nodding in agreement.

"Basically, we were just left in the dark. We read about it from the newspaper, just like everybody else does," Watson said of the hearings. "We've gotten no updates about her case at all, so I'm stuck. I want to know what's going on, but it's like pulling teeth to try to get some answers from anyone. It's like a runaround. They don't call you back."

Watson called the District Attorney's Office again after seeing an Inquirer and Daily News article about the case last month. She said she was promised a meeting with Assistant District Attorney Danielle Burkavage, who is handling the case. But that didn't happen.

"I have not heard from this lady at all" about that meeting, Watson said, wiping away tears. "I'm furious. … Somebody has to tell me something about what's going on with her case."

Burkavage said the case is still being investigated, but declined to elaborate. Ben Waxman, spokesperson for Krasner, said the district attorney would not comment about the case while it is being investigated.

Finks, 20, was killed with her boyfriend, Jonathan Pitts, during a home-invasion burglary on Aug. 29, 2009. A close friend of Pitts' was quickly arrested but was found not guilty during a 2013 jury trial.

That's where things stood until February 2016, when Barrow, a career criminal and high school dropout, turned himself in to police. He confessed in detail to killing not only the couple but also another man, Kamara Joseph, during a strikingly similar home-invasion burglary the week before the double slaying.

Barrow told detectives that he targeted his two male victims because he'd heard on the street that they dealt drugs and kept money in their homes. He entered both homes in the middle of the night by climbing through ground-floor windows after pushing in portable air-conditioning units.

He used the same brand of duct tape to bind the couple's wrists and hands as he used to bind Joseph, detectives testified during the April hearings. In his video-recorded confession, Barrow said he used the same handgun to kill all three victims, a claim confirmed by ballistics tests on the bullets recovered from the three victims' bodies.

Barrow, who told detectives he turned himself in after becoming paranoid that he was being stalked, told the investigators details about both crime scenes that only the killer would know, according to the detectives' April testimony.

Barrow told detectives that when he broke into Pitts' home in the 5500 block of Delancey Street in West Philadelphia, he thought Pitts would be alone and was startled to find him with Finks, both asleep in bed.

"I never wanted to kill that girl, I never did," Barrow says on the video.

The mountain of evidence provided by Barrow led prosecutors to quickly charge him with Joseph's murder in February 2016. The officials also charged him with committing a handful of armed robberies to which he also confessed.

Barrow is behind bars awaiting trial in Joseph's slaying. But no charges have been filed in the deaths of Finks and Pitts, despite the evidence and the confession statement.

The slayings of Finks and Pitts are far from the only unresolved killings in the city. In fact, the Washington Post reported Wednesday that from 2007 to 2016, only 55 percent of Philadelphia's 3,037 homicides resulted in an arrest, and that cases involving white victims resulted in disproportionately more charges than those involving nonwhite victims.

But without contact from the District Attorney's Office, Watson is left to speculate on why the man who said he killed her daughter wasn't arrested for it.

She thinks Krasner won't charge Barrow because the office in 2013 under former District Attorney Seth Williams had tried another man, Nafis Pinkney, for the slayings, only to see a jury find him not guilty. The city last year paid Pinkney $750,000 to settle a lawsuit he brought claiming malicious prosecution.

To try Barrow for the couple's slayings would put the office in the embarrassing position of having to tell a new jury that it was wrong in charging Pinkney but now has the right man, Watson said.

Then she recalled something that Burkavage told her, during the last substantial conversation they had nearly a year ago, which was supposed to make her feel better:

"She said, basically, 'He's in prison, so it's not like he's going anywhere.' I told her, 'Are you crazy? This is my daughter you're talking about. He's in prison for somebody else's murder, not for my daughter's murder.' Yes, I care. I want him to be charged. He confessed to her murder. You have the evidence."