From an alleged botched police investigation to a rushed autopsy, and a mother’s suspicions of police corruption, the Natasha Boykin case reads like a movie script. But without a mother’s determination, it would probably be condemned to obscurity.
According to police reports, 12:59 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2009 was the last time anyone saw Natasha Boykin alive. The 24-year-old was fatally shot once in the chest with a .357 magnum in the bedroom of her boyfriend’s—Willis “Casey” White’s—detached garage-apartment on the 400 block of Fourth Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach. The bullet went through her heart.
Boykin was pronounced dead by the Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Department at 4:36 a.m. Her death was deemed a suicide by medical examiner Dr. Valerie Rao at 10:45 a.m. that day.
Boykin’s mother, Angel King, along with family, friends and a growing body of investigators reject the official narrative. They believe that something sinister took place in those early morning hours when Boykin’s young life was cut short.
For eight years, King has tirelessly crusaded for justice. In 2011, she filed a wrongful death suit against White and eight others. The suit is still open; court records indicate that the last activity on the case was in 2015, when King’s attorneys withdrew due to irreconcilable differences, which her responsive pleading states was her inability to pay their fees.
In 2013, Jacksonville Beach Police Department provided News4Jax with this statement for a story about King’s belief that the evidence proves her daughter did not kill herself: “We have thoroughly investigated this case in conjunction with the State Attorney’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and the Duval County Medical Examiner’s Office, and have all come to the same conclusion that suicide was the cause of Miss Boykin’s death.” The investigation, they said, was “suspended.”
In light of new evidence, King now believes she has a chance at finally proving her daughter did not take her own life.
“We do have new evidence that I feel is substantial,” said King. “However, I am reluctant to say anything. I’ve been told by my lawyers that the police don’t have to reopen the case. And I feel anymore like anything I do or say is going to get me punished and will further prevent my daughter’s case from being reopened …
“My daughter did not kill herself,” King continued. “And I want it removed from her death certificate. They had no right to sit there and cause this mental anguish and emotional duress on me. If the police are so right in their presumption of suicide, then prove it. Why keep this case buried?”
This “they” to which King refers is a veritable pantheon of government agencies, officials and politically connected individuals that stretch from the affluent families in the community to the offices of the Chief of Police and the Medical Examiner.
“There are people involved in this that are far up the social ladder,” said King. “They are people of money and power and social influence that are able to shield themselves from justice, and are trying to deflect the blame to those of lesser means. And that’s not justice.”
King believes that the evidence proves, at best, a bungled investigation, at worst, a conspiracy and cover-up. There was no fingerprint testing of the gun used to kill Boykin, despite noticeable prints on the gun’s receiver; nor was there trajectory testing of the expended round that supposedly killed her. And the gunshot residue (GSR) tests performed on both Boykin’s body and White both came back positive. It was later hypothesized by a forensic investigator that White’s positive GSR test was due to him moving the gun before calling police, which he admitted in interviews.
The night she died, Boykin’s clothes were found ripped and tattered. Her bra strap was ripped, pants unbuttoned and underwear on inside out and backwards. There were also noticeable bruises and lacerations to her arms, neck and the back of her head. No sexual assault testing was performed by the medical examiner. White told Folio Weekly in a phone interview that he did not have sex with Boykin that night. “I did not hurt Natasha King, bottom line,” he said.
King and her investigators also say that the toxicology test performed on Boykin was anything but exhaustive, that the report does not list the medication that Boykin was on for her hypothyroid disorder. According to police reports, White was never administered a toxicology test.
“It usually takes 60 to 90 days for a toxicology report to be completed,” said King. “But for some reason, it only took them a couple hours to complete Natasha’s.”
King and her investigators also say that detectives did not perform any canvassing of the neighborhood, neighbors were not asked if they heard any gunshots that night, nor did detectives question Boykin’s friends and family to ascertain her state of mind leading up to her death.
According to Boykin’s sister, Jennifer Carter, police never contacted her.
“Nobody came to me about anything,” said Carter. “Which I thought was strange, considering how close we were before it all happened.”
“Natasha and I talked on the phone at least twice a week. She was usually a very happy person, but there was some stuff going on in her personal life those last couple weeks that I think had something to do with her death …
“Granted, it got a little crazy toward the end, but she never once told me that she had any intention of ending her life. That is not even an option in my book. Natasha killing herself … There’s just no way. You would have had to have known her. I haven’t believed that since I heard it.”
One of King’s private investigators, David Hodges, canvassed the neighborhood and found that not a single person heard a gunshot that night despite the apartment windows having been left open.
Boykin had made plans for the following night for a date with her childhood friend Nathan Franco. Franco says police did not contact him after her death.
“I’ve known Natasha since we were 10 years old,” said Franco. “I mean, there was a hiatus between us during our college years, but then maybe a few weeks before her death, we had started talking again.
“I remember speaking with Natasha the night she went out. Nothing really seemed out of the ordinary. She was happy and silly and just … Natasha. We even made plans for a date the following night. Unfortunately, we never got around to it, for obvious reasons …
“Natasha did tell me she was seeing this guy—Casey, I think was his name—but according to what she told me, it was really just an off-and-on thing. … She really just wanted to get away from him.” White disagrees with this assessment of their relationship, telling Folio Weekly that though they’d only been dating a few months, things were going well. “We were dating, we were having fun,” he said.
Given what she sees as a lack of evidence, and subpar effort by the JBPD and the Medical Examiner’s Office, at Hodges’ behest, King hired her own regiment of experts and examiners to see what they could find; many of them offered their services pro bono.
One of the experts was Dr. Jonathan Arden, founder and president of Arden Forensics. Arden has more than 30 years of experience, 20 as a government medical examiner in New York, Delaware, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. He has also been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including serving as lead medical examiner in the Steven Pennell serial killing case.
After reviewing the evidence provided, Arden wrote a scathing four-page report in November 2010, in which he concluded, “The totality of the evidence is not consistent with the official conclusion that the death of Natasha Boykin was a suicide.”
Aside from noting untested physical evidence—called “stipple”—shown on her boyfriend’s face and body in police photos, along with the unlikelihood that Boykin could have held the gun the way police claim she did, Arden concluded that evidence pointed to Boykin’s death being staged. White, who believes Boykin committed suicide, said that the specks on his face weren’t stipple, but debris left behind by a hedge in his driveway after a friend dropped him off that night. “The hedge I had to push through, it just put, like, dirt on my face,” he said. He also said police tested the specks, and they came back “negative.”
“I did not hurt Natasha,” White said.
According to Arden’s report, “As discussed, the evidence indicates that Ms. Boykin’s body was moved prior to the crime scene investigation, and that someone spread blood about the house after the shooting, all of which is alteration of the death scene prior to investigation. The description of her holding the gun with the barrel pointing up is inappropriate if she had shot herself and then collapsed; if true, this most likely represents a staged death scene …
“In light of these inconsistencies, none of which was reconciled by the official investigations into the death of Natasha Boykin, it is my opinion that significant unanswered concerns remain as to whether she was shot and killed by another person.”
Private investigator Randy Barnes echoes Arden’s concerns. According to Barnes, the classification of Boykin’s death as a suicide was “premature.” Barnes cites various inconsistencies and omissions of evidence.
For instance, Barnes says, the stippling found on White’s forehead and hands, which was also found on Boykin’s body, indicates that White “would have been in very close proximity to the gunshot. This would indicate Mr. White may have been present when Ms. Boykin was shot,” reported Barnes.
White vehemently denied being present when Boykin was shot. “When you fire a gun and the gases that fly in your face are not in little black chunks … that’s a bunch of BS,” he said. He told Folio Weekly that he’d been at a house party in Atlantic Beach when Boykin committed suicide. “I don’t know why she did what she did,” he said, later adding, “I wish it never would’ve happened, I’m so sorry she did what she did. I think she did it in a blacked-out state with alcohol and whatever.”
Barnes also noted, among other things, that the clothing White was said to have been wearing that night is seen next to Boykin’s body in police photos. He reported that the clothing was never tested by police nor submitted as evidence.
Miranda Hand–Boykin’s childhood friend who had been out with both Boykin and White that night–told police in a sworn statement that the pictures taken of White by police indicate he must have changed clothes before police arrived, a charge he denies. According to Hodges, the clothes she described White to have been wearing earlier can be seen on the floor of White’s room in the crime scene photographs. White told Folio Weekly that he did not change his clothes and could not have been wearing the clothes in the photos.
Barnes concluded his report, “Based on my experience as a law enforcement officer (over 36 years with local, county, state, and federal task forces), it is my strong and qualified opinion that there are too many unanswered question to have ruled this death a suicide.
“There is physical evidence that White was present in the apartment when Ms. Boykin was shot and killed; there is evidence that Ms. Boykin’s body was moved prior to the arrival of police, thereby, altering the crime scene …
“[T]here are many inconsistencies in the statement made by Mr. White on the night of Ms. Boykin’s death; the autopsy report by the Medical Examiner did not resolve, or even mention the trauma to Ms. Boykin’s body … These unresolved issues alone would warrant further investigation into the death of Ms. Boykin.”
According to police reports, White found Boykin at 4:20 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2009, telling police that he found her body lying face up on the floor of his bedroom, with a .357 magnum under her right hand, pointing “barrel up.”
In conversations with police, White admitted to moving the gun to the bottom shelf of his bookcase to the left of her body before going outside to call police. He told Folio Weekly that he’d left his door unlocked in case Boykin decided to come over, and that he was glad to see her car in his driveway when his friend dropped him off. “I was happy to see her at home. And then I walked in and there she is,” he said. “It freaked me out … . I will never get that picture out of my head. It was terrible.”
King’s knowledge of the night of her daughter’s death comes almost entirely from sworn statements taken by police, including those of Miranda Hand, White and three of his friends.
The last person who officially saw Boykin alive was Hand.
“Natasha picked me up from my house a little bit after 9:30 p.m.,” Hand told police in 2009. “She had texted me she wanted to go out and talk about some things that night. We went to The Ritz and got a drink. She was crying and really upset because she just learned that a close friend of hers had died in Iraq. And, of course, she was also going through a divorce and was told by her ex-husband that he was no longer sending her money.”
According to Hand, Boykin’s and White’s relationship had begun to cool as well, and Boykin was planning on breaking it off. “Casey had wanted more out of the relationship than Natasha did,” said Hand. According to Hand’s statement, the relationship had declined to the point where White only wanted to see Boykin on certain days of the week. White says that their relationship was fine.
“We were there for maybe an hour before we decided to go over to Lynch’s Pub,” continued Hand in the statement. “While we were walking through the parking lot, we end up running into Casey and his friends. There were three other guys with him. Since they had been arguing earlier, I walked away and let them talk things out. Once they were done, Natasha tells me she wished she hadn’t have ran into him. That she would rather not have seen him at all because she was planning on breaking up with him.”
They weren’t at Lynch’s Pub long. Hand told police Boykin was worried about White, and believed he was cheating on her, so before going home, they decided to go back to The Ritz to confirm her suspicions.
“We go back in and find he’s not with any girls,” said Hand in the statement. “We danced a little bit, they talked, and then we went home … While driving back to my house, Casey sends her a text message asking where she was at. She replied saying she was going home; that she was going through a lot and just wanted to go home.
“As we drove, she made the comment that ‘she wished it was her that was dead’ instead of her friend. But I don’t think she meant that she was going to kill herself …. It was just a figure of speech. Plus she was really excited about an upcoming trip to the Carolinas to see an old friend of hers … that and she was planning on attending school with me for physical therapy, and had made plans to call me in the morning to get all the information for school …
“I know I got home at 12:59 a.m. because I checked the clock when I walked in … I did try to get her to stay the night with me. But she said no, that she was tired and upset and just wanted to go home.”
The only clues to what happened to Boykin between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. are in text messages and a torrent of unanswered calls from Boykin to White.
According to police photos of Boykin’s phone, it shows that she called White more than 30 times between 12:30 a.m. and 2:11 a.m. (none of the calls was answered), and sent multiple texts.
Boykin first texted White around 12:30 a.m., stating that she was sad about her friend and was going home for the night. However, 24 minutes later, Boykin texted him again, saying she was too drunk to drive and asking him to come pick her up. (Hand’s statement claimed that neither she nor Boykin were drunk that night.)
From there, the texts only get stranger, some barely comprehensible, with claims of being lost and not knowing where she is or how to get home. Boykin’s final text, sent at 2:11 a.m., reads with haunting clarity, “At your apartment and using your gun thanks for keeping it loaded.”
All communication ceases at this point. White did not respond to her many calls or texts, even though phone records show she was making up to three calls a minute. Only once did he respond, asking where to find her. White told Folio Weekly that he had not received the calls or messages. “I was in a place in Atlantic Beach where there was no service,” he said. “… I was out of service; if I could have gotten to her and stopped what happened, I would have.”
White told police that he got home around 4:20 a.m.
In light of new evidence, King believes that she can prove that her daughter’s death was not suicide and that police have essentially buried the case because some people involved have powerful connections. “If you have the Jacksonville Beach Police as personal friends … where do you think the case is going to go?” asked King.
“We’ve subpoenaed her phone records,” she continued. “Based on what we were provided, we found that Natasha had made a call only seconds before sending her final text saying she was going to kill herself at her boyfriend’s apartment. Because she made this call, we were able to see where she was at 2:11 a.m. that night.
“And she was nowhere near Mr. White’s apartment. In fact, she was a mile north of his apartment and appeared to have been driving at the time,” said King.
Cell phone records provided to Folio Weekly appear to show Boykin driving in aimless circles after dropping off Hand. At various times, her calls come from areas on and around Third Street, Atlantic Boulevard, Beach Boulevard and back again on Third Street.
“We also had Ben Levitan, a cellular telephone and wireless expert, review the phone company’s records of Natasha’s phone history that night,” said King. “Based on what we provided him, he was able to confirm that Casey White lied about not speaking with Natasha past 12:30 a.m.”
According White’s sworn statement, he did not speak with Boykin after 12:30 a.m. Levitan says otherwise.
“Ms. Boykin’s cell phone records show that she and Mr. White exchanged text messages at 12:58 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2009,” said Levitan. “At 12:58 a.m., Mr. White sent a text message to Ms. Boykin’s phone. She responded at 12:58 a.m. …
“My analysis concludes that Mr. White did communicate with Ms. Boykin by phone after 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009.”
After White responded to Boykin’s text, she continued calling and texting him until sending the final text at 2:11 a.m., texts White says he did not see until after finding her body. “They’re thinking I killed this girl and I’m, like, ‘I have no idea what was going on …. They show up, cuff me, take me down and the only reason they release me was because of those text messages,” he said. He believes police
“I was interviewed all night that night. And then I went back down. JSO got involved and I voluntarily did a polygraph, which I passed.”
King also hired Daniel Gray, a truth verification analyst, to review White’s Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) performed by JBPD. During a CVSA, an individual is asked a series of questions in an effort to infer deception based on stress in the voice. (Some do not believe CVSA are reliable; a 2008 National Institute of Justice study concluded that they were no more reliable than “flipping a coin” to determine deception about recent drug use.)
According to Gray, “Mr. White is being most deceptive about the question, ‘Were you present when Natasha was shot?’ Mr. White answered ‘No’ to this question and is clearly being deceptive with the answer he gave … an immediate review should have been conducted and a more detailed interview should have immediately followed.”
With Boykin’s phone records, Levitan’s and Gray’s reports, and other evidence, King believes she has a chance at finally reopening her daughter’s case, or at least having it reviewed by a grand jury.
“Let the jury decide based on the evidence that we have,” said King. “If the evidence proves there is enough doubt about my daughter’s death being a suicide, then we can at least get her death certificate amended to reflect the truth. Even if that means we can’t prosecute …
“There needs to be accountability before they can claim any case a suicide,” added King. “This is what keeps me going. This is what keeps me fighting. They need to justify their claims.”