A 21-year-old Camden woman was sentenced to 13 years in prison Friday for fatally stabbing a 16-year-old girl during a fight in the fall of 2010.
Ebony Rand Crosson, a mother of three, bowed her head and wiped away a tear as Superior Court Judge Frederick Schuck announced his decision. Crosson pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter in October and faced a maximum of 15 years under the deal.
Family members of the victim, Bryasia Pitts, begged Schuck to reject the plea bargain. Had Crosson gone to trial, she could have faced 30 years to life on a murder charge.
"The 15-year cap is such an injustice," said Kyisha Lingo, a cousin who helped to raise Pitts. "Your honor, the kids don't fear this little bit of time in the streets."
"This is why children like this young lady here had no fear to pick up a knife and stab a child," she added, turning toward Crosson, "over a man who don't love neither one of them, who wouldn't speak on behalf of you or Bry."
Crosson and Pitts had a long-standing feud over 22-year-old Harry Walker of Camden, who fathered two of Crosson's children but was dating Pitts at the time of the fight.
Both sides acknowledge that the two females had previously come to blows. On July 18, 2010, they fought so fiercely in Walker's basement that Crosson ripped out chunks of Pitts' hair. During that fight, Pitts took a knife from the kitchen, threatened to stab Crosson, and followed her out of the house, according to a police report Crosson filed that day.
Pitts' family said Crosson instigated the fights. They say Pitts was not a fighter and never pulled a knife on Crosson.
On Sept. 11, Crosson, then 18 and almost six months pregnant, went to a party in the Fairview section of Camden to find Walker. She wanted him to visit the children, and he had been ignoring her calls, according to her statement to police. Crosson said she did not know that Pitts was at the party until Pitts began screaming at her.
Crosson took a knife from the kitchen and put it in her pocket, fearing that Pitts might try to stab her, according to her statement to police.
Walker and Crosson left the party and walked several blocks before they stopped at Alabama and Octagon Streets and tried to hail a cab, according to court records. Pitts and a group of her friends followed them, both sides acknowledge.
Witnesses disagree on who threw the first punch. Crosson told police she blacked out during the fight. Pitts was taken to Virtua Camden shortly after midnight. She died of multiple stab wounds.
On Friday, Pitts' mother, Anika, 36, urged the judge to give Crosson the maximum sentence.
"My first-born child was stabbed nine times for a senseless reason," she said.
Looking at Crosson, she added, "I feel sorry for her young children. They will not grow up with their mother because of her wrong choices." Crosson's sons are ages 4, 2 and 1.
Crosson choked back tears as she apologized to the dozens of Pitts' family members and friends who filled four rows in the courtroom.
"I know no matter what I say, she's not coming back, and no matter what I say, I can't bring her back," Crosson said. "I want to apologize and let everyone know I am very remorseful for what I did."
She added, "I'm not the monster that everybody's making me out to be."
Crosson has been held at the Camden County Jail since her arrest on Sept. 16, 2010, and will receive credit for time served. She must serve at least 85 percent of her sentence before she is eligible for parole.
Outside the courtroom, a family friend embraced Anika Pitts, who sobbed. Others loudly complained about the judge's decision.
"It's disrespectful; I think it's an insult," said Andre Pitts, Bryasia Pitts' uncle. He would rather have taken the case to trial, even if that meant Crosson being found not guilty and going free.
"Maybe it's just Camden; maybe [the sentence] would be bigger if it was two white girls fighting," he said.