It’s a scenario that tragically plays out across the country every day. Innocent young women — wives and ex-wives and girlfriends — are killed by their partners and ex-partners, leaving families torn apart, children motherless, and communities shattered.
While corporate media focuses on black men and women who die in altercations with police, thousands of black American men and women nationwide suffer the loss of loved ones in other violent ways and they also deserve justice and recognition of their pain. The families of Kervina Woods and Donyea Williams — murdered nearly eight years ago — are still grieving and seeking justice.
Kervina, 24, and Donyea, 27 were shot to death by Kervina’s estranged husband, Beonridge Bradley III, 28, on Nov. 17, 2013 in Selma, Alabama. Bradley was arrested Nov. 18, 2013 — the day both mothers found out their children were lying dead in Kervina’s apartment. Donyea’s mother, Adondra Williams, will never forget her husband calling out from the apartment, “What funeral home do you want to come pick him up.”
The morning of the day that would be her last on earth, Kervina told her mother, Regina, that she was going to get a gun to protect herself and her family. Even though she had moved out and filed for divorce, Bradley was still harassing Kervina. Her car and apartment were frequently broken into. He stalked her.
Kervina was a caring, compassionate home health worker much loved by her clients. She had applied for nursing school. Her acceptance letter came in the mail days after she was killed.
A person whose son Kervina cared for on the job, who asked not to be identified to avoid sensationalizing the relationship, said of Kervina:
Kervina was caregiver for my severely disabled son for a short time until she was killed. She wasn’t just a good or even an excellent caregiver. She was exceptional. I usually spend at least two or three days training a trained caregiver on how to take care of my son. But I really did not have to train her. She had an innate sense of skill and compassion as to how to handle him — from feeding to dressing to simply talking to him. She was not just beautiful. She was motivated to be the best she could be and hoped someday to earn a degree in the healthcare field. We grieve for her family, and her clients also lost a gem.
Donyea had gotten his college career back on track and was studying engineering. Together, they were parents of a four-year-old daughter, whom they both adored. That child lost both parents in one tragic night.
Donyea had answered Kervina’s call and given her a ride home after she was stranded because Bradley had slashed her tires. Bradley pushed into the apartment wielding a semiautomatic weapon. At the door, he shot Donyea in the chest and the head. He found Kervina hiding in the bathroom, and shot her multiple times. He and the driver, Eddie James Irvin III, were found at the scene the next day, jailed, and charged with capital murder.
Hearts broken, the Woods and Williams families buried their children, took care of their grandchildren, and prayed for justice.
For nearly eight years, they attended more court hearings than they can count, reliving the deaths of their children each time. Each hearing ended with the defense requesting a continuance, and the district attorney’s office not objecting.
They repeatedly pleaded for a jury trial, in hopes of a life sentence without parole. But they were not heard. On Apr. 9, 2021, District Attorney Michael Jackson — whom they had not seen in more than seven years — informed them in a Zoom meeting he had finalized the case and was not going to put Bradley on trial as they wished.
Nor, they found out, would he seek prison without parole. Instead, Jackson made an “executive decision” to lower the charge from capital to felony murder and to accept a guilty plea in exchange for two consecutive life sentences.
“We want a jury trial,” Adondra said at the time. “We do not want Mr. Jackson to be judge and jury. Once you decide to pull the trigger and murder two innocent people, you lose all opportunity to participate in civilized society,”
“It’s a slap in the face,” Regina said of Jackson’s deal. “Don’t tell us you imagine our pain You cannot imagine or know it unless it’s your child six feet under. We are not asking for pity. We want justice for all — whether my family or someone else’s family.”
So they hit the pavement, raising their voices for justice — speaking for their children, whose voices were silenced. Adondra and Regina spent two weeks protesting the plea deal and calling for justice, first at the courthouse then at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of 1965 marches for voting rights. They were supported by other protesters, along with dozens who drove by, honking their horns in support and promising to pray for a good outcome.
Despite their heartrending cries, on Apr. 21, the district judge accepted Jackson’s plea agreement. Bradley pled guilty, refused to speak to the families of the victims, and received two consecutive life sentences. That means Bradley will be eligible for parole, and he will testify in a trial the D.A. is holding against the driver in June. “That is just backwards,” Adondra said. “It was the shooter who should have the trial.”
In an interview, Jackson told me domestic violence cases can be difficult to present to a jury and get 12 people to agree to the charge. He believes that with two consecutive life sentences “Mr. Bradley will be in prison the rest of his life.” He will be eligible for parole, Jackson said, but he believes it will be at least 30 years before it is considered, and his office will protest it and hopefully so will the family.
Although Regina said she has forgiven Bradley, she still seeks a real life sentence. She wants the district attorney to “tell the truth, the whole truth. You went against our will. You went against what we asked we just wanted our day in court. “His parents can still see him, talk to him. We have to go to the graveyard to see our children,” she adds.
Crime hits the black American population hard. Black women are killed twice as often as white women in domestic violence cases. In general, black and American Indian/Alaska Native women experience the highest rates of homicide (4.4 and 4.3 per 100,000 population) and over half of all homicides (55 percent) are related to domestic violence.
Furthermore, data shows young black men and teens ages 18-34 are killed by guns 20 times more than their white counterparts. “A Public Health Crisis in the Making,” found that although black American men make up just 2 percent of the nation’s population, they were among 37 percent of gun homicides. Indeed, in 2017, half of all black homicide victims were killed by someone they knew.
Donyea was the grandson of Ulysses Blackmon, one of the Courageous Eight, the black American heroes who worked for decades to get blacks the right to vote through the Dallas County Voter’s League. In 1965, they invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Selma to lead the movement, and their work contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It was because of the right to vote that Jackson was elected in 2004 as the first black American district attorney in the Fourth Circuit (including Selma), and the second black American D.A. elected in Alabama. The Courageous Eight fought for the right to vote because it also is the right to serve on a jury, as jurors are called from lists of registered voters. But if there is no jury trial, you lose your voice.
Rev. Leodis Strong of Selma’s Brown Chapel AME, where most of the mass meetings for the voting rights movement took place, attended last Wednesday’s hearing to “stand in solidarity and prayer” with the families in their “unbearable pain and suffering.”
There should have been more transparent communication between the D.A. and the families in this process so the families, “who have already been victimized and are grieving would not have felt so betrayed and mistreated by going through what happened today,” he said. “These families still have so much to go through with all of this … my heart and prayers are with them.”
Regina’s granddaughter, now 11, recently came to her bed one night, crying because she missed her mom. “Mother’s Day is coming up, and I know we will put flowers on Kervina’s grave,” Regina said. “You have to push through the pain. You learn to cope, but you never get over it. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts.”
Christine Weerts, author of “Heroes of Faith: Rosa J. Young,” is a researcher with the Alabama Black Lutheran Heritage Association. She won a commendation from the Concordia Historical Institute in 2020 for her historical writing on race. A freelance writer, she has degrees in music (BA) and religion (MA).