BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Shaniyia Thomas is the older sister to Sharabia Thomas, who was last seen on Gates Avenue in Brooklyn on February 10, 2004, heading to a high school field trip. She was 17.
On Friday, more than 14 years after Sharabia Thomas' body was found in two laundry bags, the victim's sister faced the convicted killer in court.
“My sister was a fighter. You picked the wrong person,” Shaniyia Thomas said to Kwauhuru Govan, who stared straight ahead from his seat at the defense table, never making eye contact.
Shaniyia Thomas called Govan “a monster who thought he wouldn’t get caught.”
The fact that Govan, 40, did get caught was something of a miracle, beginning with a neighbor who contacted PIX11’s Mary Murphy Mystery Facebook page in May 2016.
The woman, Taiesha Davidson, was always bothered that Sharabia Thomas’ case was unsolved. She remembered Thomas as the middle girl in a family of three sisters who were always together.
Davidson was moved to contact PIX11 after seeing our report on a better-publicized cold case murder: the killing of Chanel Petro Nixon in 2006.
Nixon's body was found in trash bags on a Bedford-Stuyvesant sidewalk, four days after Father’s Day in 2006. Davidson thought the case had similarities to Thomas’ 2004 slaying.
Both victims were slim, beautiful teens with similar features.
Both were found in bags, although Thomas was discovered in an alley just off a Palmetto Street sidewalk.
PIX11 contacted the NYPD and the Cold Case Squad retrieved evidence in the Thomas case from the Medical Examiner’s office. DNA saved from under Thomas' fingernails was submitted to CODIS, a national database.
There was a hit.
The DNA profile matched Govan, an inmate who was finishing time on a robbery conviction in Florida. Govan used to live on Gates Avenue, two blocks away from Thomas.
“She basically solved her own murder, by fighting back,” Thomas' younger sister Rachel Roberts said outside court Friday. “DNA doesn’t lie.”
Three months after Govan was arrested in the Thomas case, he was charged with the dismemberment murder of 19-year-old Rashawn Brazell, who had lived across the street from Govan on Gates Avenue.
Brazell disappeared on Valentine’s Day in 2005 while on his way to lunch with his mother. His body parts were found in a subway tunnel four days later.
Govan was also tied to the dismemberment killing of an unknown teen whose body parts were found in a Brooklyn waste transfer station in July 2005.
Police suspect he was a serial killer.
Govan had an outburst in court during an appearance in the Brazell case, screaming “I can’t dissect a frog!”
He was much more subdued in court during Friday's sentencing proceedings for the Thomas murder.
Despite the jury’s verdict, Govan denied any responsibility for her killing.
“I’m an innocent man,” said Govan, who was dressed in a crisp white shirt and navy tie.
He argued that other hairs were found on Thomas' body that came from someone else. Govan said he was arrested in November 2016 “just to appease this family, just to appease people.”
The Cold Case Squad investigators who traveled to Florida to arrest Govan — detectives Evelyn Gutierrez and Jason Palamara — sat stoically in the first row of the 19th-floor courtroom, as Govan refused to admit he killed Thomas.
They later hugged Thomas’ sisters outside court, along with Brazell’s mother, after the judge sentenced Govan to 25 years to life for the kidnapping and murder.
“He still doesn’t have any remorse,” Rachel Roberts, the younger sister, said, “but today my family got everything it deserved.”