Chester man takes plea deal over stabbing of girlfriend, death of unborn son

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comDecember 4, 2013 

— The only thing Aris Nichols says he remembers about the night his unborn son died is the sight of his pregnant girlfriend bleeding on the bed in the moments after police say he stabbed her eight times.

In a Chester County courtroom Wednesday, Nichols, 40, did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in the 2012 attack on Brittney Jordan, now 23, which resulted in the death of the couple’s unborn son.

They had planned to call the baby Tavaris.

“If I could take the place of him or her, I would do that right now,” Nichols told Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard.

Nichols pleaded “no contest” to two charges – attempted murder, and death or injury to a child in utero. The plea allows him to avoid admitting guilt while receiving a lower sentencing recommendation that comes with a guilty plea.

Kinard sentenced Nichols to 25 years in prison. He faced 75 years – “a life sentence,” his lawyer called it – if convicted on all charges. He had been scheduled to go to trial Monday, Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield said.

The events leading to Tavaris’ death and his mother’s crippling injuries started at 8:30 a.m. April 26, 2012, when a witness called police and said she saw Nichols assault Brittney Jordan, who was 30 weeks pregnant, while walking down a street near downtown Chester, Barfield said.

He grabbed her arm, according to the witness, and pulled her away. By the time police arrived, the witness had left the area and there was no sign of Nichols or Jordan.

Four hours later, Nichols’ cousin called police and reported that Nichols had attacked Jordan at the couple’s Pinckney Street mobile home.

Officers found Jordan in a bed bleeding from her neck and head. She had been stabbed in the face three times, twice in the scalp, twice on her left ear, and once in the back of the head. Authorities believe Nichols attacked Jordan as soon as the couple returned home that morning.

She was flown to a Columbia hospital, where she stayed for a month, Barfield said. Doctors couldn’t detect Tavaris’ heartbeat and determined that Jordan, who already had two young sons with Nichols, had suffered a placental abruption – the lining of her placenta had separated from her uterus.

Doctors performed an emergency cesarean section, delivering the stillborn Tavaris, who had suffocated from a lack of blood and oxygen when the placenta ruptured, Barfield said. The baby did not show any signs of injury or disease.

“She felt the baby move the day of the stabbing,” Barfield said.

While in the hospital, Jordan, who never got the chance to hold Tavaris, told police she had planned to “pack up camp” and leave Nichols after having had enough of his staying out all night, Barfield said.

As she walked away from the mobile home, Nichols followed her on a bicycle, shoved her to the ground and forced her back into the home. He grabbed a knife from the kitchen and “jabbed” Jordan several times until she fell to the floor, unable to feel her right side.

Nichols grabbed her by an arm and a leg and threw her onto the bed, where she bled “profusely” for hours, Barfield said. The stab wounds to the back of Jordan’s head left her with a spinal cord injury.

Today, Jordan has limited use of her right arm, which was already deformed from birth, and suffers from partial paralysis on her right side. She walks with a limp.

Police initially charged Nichols with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature. He was later charged with attempted murder, possession of a weapon during a violent crime and death or injury to a child in utero.

Two months after his arrest, a judge ordered that Nichols, who had displayed signs of mental health issues in the past, undergo a mental health evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial.

He was evaluated three times, said Sixth Circuit Public Defender Mike Lifsey, adding that he believed his client was competent to stand trial.

When private investigators helped Lifsey “re-investigate” the case, he said, they found nothing to suggest Nichols’ innocence.

“The question then becomes, why did this happen?” Lifsey said.

His theory: Nichols’ “awful” childhood, impoverished upbringing and low IQ – coupled with drug and alcohol abuse and signs of mental illness – was “trouble waiting to happen.”

Before the April 2012 assault, Nichols, who had served time in prison for assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, had begun attending church and Bible study classes, Lifsey said.

When Nichols is sober, he’s likable, Lifsey said, adding that Nichols had been hired as a church custodian and “had gotten away from his demons.”

“The best we can conclude is that the day or night before” Jordan’s attack, Lifsey said, “he slipped and succumbed to his demons again,” possibly using crack cocaine and “losing control.”

“He had no memory of this incident.”

Linda Lee, a retired Department of Social Services employee who worked with Nichols’ family when he was in middle school, said Nichols was always polite, although he lived in a high-crime area that police at the time called “Maggot Alley.” His mother heard voices, Lee said, and suffered from hallucinations.

Lifsey asked Judge Kinard to sentence Nichols to 15 years in prison, instead of the 30 years the solicitor had recommended.

Fifteen years “is a long time in prison,” he said. “I think he’ll be a different person at 50 than he was at 39.”

Speaking softly, Nichols told Kinard he only remembers going home and finding Jordan bleeding on the bed.

“If I wanted to kill someone, wouldn’t you think nobody wouldn’t know?” he said.

Arguing for a 30-year prison term, Barfield ticked off Nichols’ lengthy criminal record, which includes convictions for assault and battery, petty larceny and drug possession. He described Nichols as a “short, stocky guy” versus the tiny, frail Jordan, who he said appeared to weigh 75 pounds, if that.

“If he believes this was his child, he caused the death of his own child,” Barfield said.

Jordan told Kinard that Nichols’ difficult life was no excuse for what he had done because she, too, had had a hard upbringing.

“Aris stabbed me because he thinks I’m sleeping with someone else,” she said. “He stabbed me because he doesn’t want anybody to have me.”

Jordan’s stepmother, Lakisha Jordan, tearfully asked Kinard to give Nichols the maximum sentence. She said she had been able to hold Tavaris after doctors delivered his lifeless body.

The baby’s mother, she said, still cries.

Bessie Nichols Dye, Nichols’ mother, asked Kinard to show her son mercy. That son, charged with killing her grandchild, used to call her every morning. Now, she’s getting sick and needs him.

“He loved his kids; he loved Brittney,” she said. “I think he got weak. He got very weak.”

When Kinard sentenced Nichols, he told him his history of mental illness and hard beginnings were “no excuse.”

As detention center officers escorted Nichols outside and placed him in a transport van, his aunt watched and sobbed.

Asalee Nichols said her nephew got off easier than what he would have had a jury convicted him. She said family members begged him to take the plea.

Between sniffles and sobs, Dye shouted to her son: “Be strong, baby.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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