The woman convicted of using murder victim Nichelle McKnight's credit cards was sentenced today to 10 months in prison after the judge stressed that the sentence was in no way connected to McKnight's death.
Tonisha L. Harris, 30, pleaded no contest and was found guilty on all eight counts by Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Dennis Langer. Harris received 51 days of jail-time credit and was ordered to pay restitution of $2,768.15 to JP Morgan Chase. Prosecutors had asked Langer to impose the maximum of seven years.
Dayton police have said McKnight and her still-missing 4-year-old son, Zaden, likely were killed in the basement of Harris' former residence at 23 Birchwood Ave. by suspect Antwan Anderson, who later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a shootout with police.
"I just want to apologize for my actions. I take full responsibility," Harris told Langer. "And I'm so sorry that the victim's family is experiencing the pain that they are experiencing."
Surrounded by supporters wearing lime green shirts with "Where is Zaden?" written on them in blue, Nichelle McKnight's mother, Michelle Williams, cried in the court's hallway after the sentencing, but did not comment to the media.
"What I do want to make clear is that the court does not take into consideration the fact that the victim of the receiving stolen property/misuse of credit cards, Nichelle McKnight, was subsequently murdered," Langer said. "Ms. Harris is not charged in this case with that homicide."
Harris was convicted of one count of theft of more than $1,000, six counts of receiving stolen property and one count of misuse of credit cards belonging to McKnight. Prosecutors said Harris used stolen credit cards at three Walmart stores, two Walgreens stores and two bank ATMs. None of the eight fifth-degree felony counts are tied to McKnight's death, but prosecutors have said that the investigation is ongoing.
Montgomery County assistant prosecutor Erin Claypoole declined comment, as did Williams' supporters.
But in a sentencing memorandum, Claypoole wrote, "Frankly, removing her from victims — by sending her to prison for as long as possible — is the only way to protect the public from her," later adding, "Her continuing greed has caused pain to many people, especially the victim of the Receiving Stolen Property counts — Nichelle McKnight, and her family. Simply put, unless removed from society, she will continue her crime spree."
The memo pointed out Harris' "extensive" criminal history, including numerous cases in Montgomery County involving a firearm, receiving stolen property, theft and forgery. Harris has additional crimes in Butler County for theft and forgery, Greene County for identity fraud, Miami County for theft and passing bad checks and Fairborn Municipal Court for petty theft.
Langer recounted that history in court and said that despite eight separate theft convictions since 2007, Harris has failed in her attempts at Intervention in Lieu of Conviction and probation.
"Even though you served nine months in prison for a theft offenses, you continue to commit these theft crimes, and you even do it, as I've indicated, while you were on supervision for probation or ILC," Langer said.