America’s Youngest Woman Sentenced to Death: Christa Pike

Most 18 years olds have two things on their mind: high school graduation and college. But Christa Pike was not like other teenagers because she was plotting the murder of a classmate she thought was trying to steal her boyfriend. She was a troubled girl whose story would create huge debates.

Christa Pike / Christa Pike / Death Row Chair / Christa Pike.
Source: Getty Images

Pike had a life filled with poverty, family instability, and drug addiction. Fueled by irrational jealously, she murdered Colleen Slemmer and became the youngest woman in America on death row. Behind Pike’s “sweet voice and child-like manner,” was a disturbed teenager with no remorse for her actions.

Troubled Beginnings

Born on March 10, 1976, Christa Pike didn’t have a pleasant childhood. Her mom was a “party girl” who was more interested in doing drugs and drinking than taking care of her child. As for Pike’s father, he didn’t want the responsibilities of being a father, so he was absent the first few years.

A photo of Christa Pike at the police station.
Christa Pike. Source: Pinterest

Because her parents weren’t around, Pike’s grandma raised her until she passed away when Pike was 12. It turned her world upside down, and she had to move back in with her mom, who introduced her to marijuana when she was a young teenager. It was a horrible environment for Pike.

Getting Into Trouble

Due to her rocky upbringing, Pike rebelled early on. She dropped out of high school and started getting into trouble. Pike was arrested for shoplifting and spent a month in juvenile detention. Unfortunately, spending time behind bars didn’t cause Pike break the cycle of problems.

A picture of Christa during childhood.
Christa Pike. Source: Pinterest

After her release, Pike joined the Job Corps in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was a government-run program that helped disadvantaged youth turn their lives around by offering career training. Pike wanted to become a nurse technician, but she focused less on her studies and more on boys, specifically Tadaryl Shipp.

Obsession Is an Understatement

The participants of the Job Corps lived in dormitories for a campus-like environment. It was there that she met Shipp, and the two quickly developed a love affair. He also came from a troubled background and dropped out of high school in ninth grade to join a gang.

A photo of Christa in court.
Source: YouTube

According to other Job Corps students, Pike and Shipp bonded over their passion for Satanism and the occult, or their twisted version of it. He was a year younger than her, but that didn’t stop them from forming a toxic relationship that would end in the death of another student.

Attracting Other Worshipers

The dormitories were a hotbed for criminal activity, and the couple’s love for the Devil attracted another student, Shadolla Peterson. The three of them became close friends and believed in supernatural and mystical practices. While they should have focused on studying, they were too busy with their outside activities.

A mugshot of Tadaryl Shipp / A mugshot of Shadolla Peterson.
Tadaryl Shipp, Shadolla Peterson. Source: Knoxville County Sheriff’s Department

They had a warped sense of reality, and they were inseparable. It was a friendship that could only form under these circumstances, and people knew there was something dangerous about them. Pike, Shipp, and Peterson were a trio that others didn’t want to hang around because they were scary.

Threatened by Someone Else

Around the same time, Colleen Slemmer appeared on the scene. She was a year younger than Pike, and the two didn’t get along. From the time they met, Pike became paranoid that Slemmer was interested in Shipp. Pike was very protective and jealous.

A portrait of Colleen Slemmer.
Colleen Slemmer. Source: Pinterest

Pike didn’t hide her feelings and spread malicious rumors about Slemmer. Slemmer’s friends insisted that she didn’t have any romantic interest in Shipp, but that didn’t stop the two girls from getting in a fight. Pike then started plotting to get rid of her rival for good.

Plotting Her Revenge

Her hatred for Slemmer bubbled, so Pike convinced Shipp and Peterson that her rival needed to be “sacrificed in the name of Satan.” Pike was set on a vendetta and plotted to lure Slemmer into an isolated area near the campus to kill her.

A portrait of Christa Pike.
Christa Pike. Source: Pinterest

There was an abandoned steam mill close by, and Pike thought it was the perfect place because it was secluded, and no one would hear screaming. Peterson and Shipp were on board with the plan and agreed that Slemmer needed to go away.

They Tricked Her

On the evening of January 12, 1995, Pike, Shipp, and Peterson lured Slemmer out to the woods by promising her marijuana. Pike told her she wanted to smoke as a peace offering. The four signed out of the dormitories and headed to the mill.

An image of a dark forest.
Photo by Tom Morel/Unsplash

When they were far enough into the forest and completely isolated, Pike began accusing Slemmer of trying to sleep with her boyfriend. She denied the accusations, but Pike was furious. She became fed up and kneed Slemmer in the face.

They Enjoyed It

Once Pike made the first move, Shipp jumped in to attack Slemmer. She begged and cried for them to stop, but they didn’t. For half an hour, Pike, Shipp, and Peterson tortured the girl until they got bored. Then they carved a pentagram on her chest.

An image of Christa in court.
Christa Pike. Photo by Michael Patrick

They enjoyed hurting Slemmer despite her pleas to let her free. After almost an hour, Pike took a piece of asphalt and repeatedly smashed the girl’s head until she was dead. But before leaving, Pike took a piece of Slemmer’s skull as a souvenir.

Slemmer Tried to Bargain With Them

During the attack, Slemmer attempted to flee, but Peterson and Shipp pushed her back to the ground. Pike said she heard “voices” telling her to prevent Slemmer from sending her to prison for attempted murder. In a final plea for her life, Slemmer tried to reason with Pike.

A portrait of Colleen Slemmer.
Colleen Slemmer. Source: Pinterest

Slemmer said she would “walk back to Florida without returning to the Job Corps facility for her belongings.” Unfortunately, Pike didn’t believe her, so she told her to shut up because “it was hard to hurt someone when they’re talking.”

Pike Bragged About Her Crime

The day before Slemmer’s death, Pike told her friend Kim Iolio that she planned to kill Slemmer because “she felt mean that day.” Iolio dismissed the claim, but she regretted it. After the murder, Pike came to Iolio’s room to share the details.

A picture of an older Pike during a hearing.
Source: News Sentinel Archive

Iolio said Pike danced around, smiling and singing “la, la, la” while sharing her crime story. When Iolio asked her about the piece of skull the following day, Pike said she had it in her pocket and “yes, I’m eating breakfast with it.”

She Didn’t Hide the Evidence

While most murderers try to hide the evidence of their crimes, Pike showed off like she was doing a show-and-tell presentation. She told a classmate that the brown stain on her shoe wasn’t mud; it was blood. She also took her souvenir out to flaunt it to everyone.

A portrait of Christa Pike.
Source: Pinterest

She continued to share graphic details with anyone who would listen. No one knew what to do with the information until a University of Tennessee groundskeeper found Slemmer’s body. They soon realized that everything Pike had said was true.

She Confessed Quickly

Despite showing off what she had done, none of Pike’s friends or co-conspirators reported her crime. However, it didn’t take long for someone to find Slemmer’s body. Once Slemmer was recovered, police quickly showed up at Pike’s door just three days after the murder.

A picture of Christa in court.
Photo by Michael Patrick

When the police interviewed her, Pike waived her Miranda rights and confessed to the crime, and she told an interesting story. Initially, she said she just wanted Slemmer “to leave her alone,” but the brutality of the murder told a different tale.

A 46-Page Statement

In her statement, Pike claimed that Slemmer threatened her with a box cutter and provoked the attack. Although she said she only went to fight Slemmer, Pike took a box cutter and meat cleaver. She happily told the police every last detail of the attack.

A surveillance photo of Christa in prison.
Christa Pike. Source: YouTube

She told the investigator that she beat Slemmer until she couldn’t identify Pike. She also said that after the attack, Pike and her co-conspirators washed their hands and shoes in a mud puddle and returned the meat cleaver to the person she had borrowed it from.

The Police Found Evidence Easily

Listening to Pike, the investigators knew she had a deep-rooted hatred for Slemmer. She said the more Slemmer begged for her life, the more she stabbed, kicked, and tortured her. There was no hiding the crime.

A photo of a letter Christa sent to Shipp.
Source: YouTube

Besides her confession, the dorm logbook showed the four of them signed out, but only three returned. The police also recovered the piece of skull from Pike’s jacket pocket. However, Pike didn’t admit that the entire plan was premeditated; she claimed that they had wanted to scare her, but it went too far.

No One Was Innocent

Within 36 hours of the crime, Shipp and Peterson were arrested as well. They were just as guilty as Pike. The police searched Shipp’s room, finding a Satanic Bible and altar. Peterson said she was just the lookout and didn’t physically participate in the murder.

Christa Pike / Tadaryl Shipp / Shadolla Peterson.
Christa Pike, Tadaryl Shipp, Shadolla Peterson. Source: YouTube

After questioning the three teens, the case against Pike became rock solid. She didn’t try to fight the charges at the time. While Pike and Shipp were facing murder charges, Peterson decided to take a plea deal to get a lighter sentence.

“Diminished Mental Capacity”

Pike was charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to murder. While the prosecution was aided by evidence and Pike’s confession, her lawyers tried to lessen the charges. The defense argued that Pike’s “diminished mental capacity” caused the murder, and doctors were called to testify.

An image of Christa crying in court after her sentence.
Photo by Joe Howell

Dr. Eric Engum testified that although Pike had severe borderline personality disorder, a dependence on cannabis, and depression, there were no symptoms of brain damage or insanity. Her attorneys wanted to use a plea of insanity, but it didn’t work in their favor.

Calling Other Witnesses

In another failed attempt to lessen the charges, Pike’s lawyers called her family members to testify about her “difficult” upbringing. They called Dr. Diana McCoy, another expert, to testify about Pike’s diminished capacity, but her testimony was scrubbed at the last moment.

A photo of a forensic anthropologist testifying in court about Colleen's wounds.
Dr. Murray Marks. Source: News Sentinel Archive

Meanwhile, Dr. William Bernet, an expert in Satanism, was also called to the stand. He claimed that while there were some elements of Satanism to Pike’s crime, it was more suggestive of “an adolescent dabbling in Satanism.” He said it was more an act of collective aggression.

Peterson Took a Deal

In exchange for testifying for the state, Peterson pled guilty as an accessory to murder and received probation. She told the jury about Pike’s plot to kill Slemmer and all the elements of the murder. Peterson ended up serving six years of probation.

An image of Christa in court.
Photo by Byron Small

On the other hand, the jury convicted Shipp of murder, and he was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He had a more significant involvement in the case than Peterson and didn’t want to testify against Pike.

Death Row

A year after the murder, Pike was convicted of capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder after just two hours of jury deliberation. She was then sentenced to death by electrocution for the murder charge and 25 years for the conspiracy charge.

A photo of a death row chair.
Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images

Pike cried throughout the proceedings, but her act did not move the jury. She became the youngest woman sentenced to death in America. Tennessee, however, hasn’t executed any women, and she is the only woman on the state’s death row. Therefore, she will probably die before facing the electric chair.

“An Angel’s Face and a Devil’s Heart”

Pike was sent to live her life in a grey concrete box where she gets one hour a day for exercise. She filled her cell with stuffed animals, toys, and trinkets of angels. Pike was sent to a maximum-security prison in Tennessee.

A photo of Christa in a newspaper clipping titled “Angel’s Face, Devil’s Heart.”
Source: Pinterest

While it may have seemed like she was just a child, a juror said, “She has an angel’s face and a devil’s heart.” When Pike was convicted, she was only 19. Her life had barely begun, but she will spend the rest of her years in a three-by-three-meter cell.

Colleen Slemmer’s Mom Wants the Skull

When Slemmer was found dead, her family and friends were rightfully devastated. After the investigation, her family cremated her body, but a piece of Slemmer was still being used for evidence. However, her parents wanted it back because they wanted to put her to rest.

A witness coordinator speaks to Colleen’s mother outside the courtroom.
Patty Boardwine, May Martinez Colleen’s mother. Source: YouTube

Unfortunately, the piece of skull that Pike took from Slemmer’s head remained in the coroner’s custody until the appeals process ran its course. Her mom wanted to cremate the piece of skull and scatter the ashes as they had with the rest of her body.

Not a Model Prisoner

Some people who sit on death row have time to think about their actions. While some prisoners start to have remorse and try to earn forgiveness from the people they hurt, Pike has yet to show any regret for the murder of Slemmer.

An updated mugshot of Christa Pike.
Christa Pike. Source: Pinterest

To say she hasn’t been a model prisoner is an understatement. Despite being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day, she has found several ways to get in trouble. From messing with other inmates to writing letters to her former boyfriend, Pike doesn’t care about her actions.

Writing Letters to Shipp

A few days after being sentenced to die by electrocution, Pike wrote a troubling letter to Shipp. She said, “I miss you so much! Ya see what I get for tryin’ to be nice to the ho? I went ahead and bashed her brains out, so she’d die quickly.”

A photo of Christa in court.
Source: News Sentinel Archive

Pike offered to testify for Shipp. The letter was disturbing because she thought she was doing Slemmer a favor by smashing her head with a rock instead of letting her “suffer more.” The sick words were subsequently read at a court hearing for Pike.

Another Murder Charge

There is no greater sentence than death, so Pike wasn’t afraid to get in more trouble. In August 2001, she was convicted of attempted first-degree murder for trying to strangle fellow inmate Patricia Jones with a shoestring. Once again, she bragged about it.

A mugshot of Christa Pike / A mugshot of Patricia Jones.
Christa Pike, Patricia Jones. Source: Pinterest

A few days after the attack, Pike joked on a phone call with her mom, “I wrapped that shoestring around her and tried to choke the life out of her.” Pike acted like she was playing a game when she described the assault in detail.

Trying to Appeal

Following the guilty verdict, Pike “launched, canceled, and relaunched” an appeal of her conviction to the state courts. Then, in a strange twist of events, Pike went against the advice of her lawyers and asked the court to drop her appeal. She wanted to get an execution date.

An image of Christa Pike in court.
Source: News Sentinel Archive

After getting an execution date in 2002, she once again changed her mind. Pike asked her lawyers to file an appeal, but the motion was denied. Despite her denied appeal, Pike was not executed. She tried to appeal again, but it was the final denial.

Born to Kill

In 2008, Pike was examined by an expert neurologist who examined her brain. He made a startling discovery that Pike had the capacity to kill when she was born. She used this information to change her sentence from death to life in prison.

Christa smiles in court.
Source: YouTube

Her lawyers tried to spare her life after she took the life of another by claiming her fate as a killer was sealed long before she met Slemmer. However, the judge rejected Pike’s bid to change her sentence.

A New Pen Pal

Although it is unclear how it began, a New Jersey man named Donald Kohut started writing to Pike in 2011. They sent letters back and forth until he decided to make the long drive from New Jersey to Tennessee to visit Pike. He regularly drove once or twice a month to see her.

A still of Donald Kohut in court.
Donald Kohut. Source: YouTube

He would drive 1,800 miles round trip for a woman he only knew through letters. Kohut and Pike’s relationship was bizarre and soon turned criminal. Kohut communicated that he wanted to help her escape from prison.

Creating an Escape Plan

With Kohut’s help, Pike enlisted correctional officer Justin Heflin to assist in her escape. He agreed to participate in return for cash and gifts. Kohut met Heflin on one of his many trips to visit Pike. The plan was to trace and duplicate a key.

A mugshot of Donald Kohut.
Donalds Kohut. Source: Pinterest

Once the key was duplicated, Heflin was supposed to give the key to Pike so she could get out. While the entire plan was never fully released by the court, we don’t know how Pike would have casually walked out of a maximum-security prison once she left her cell.

A Foiled Plan

Before they could even duplicate the key, prison personnel received information about the escape plot. It wouldn’t be surprising if Pike had bragged about it, and someone reported her. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and NJ State Police opened an investigation.

An image of a prison cell.
Photo by Grant Durr/Unsplash

They discovered that the plan was not far along, and the jailbreak “was not imminent.” As a result, Kohut was arrested in March 2012 for bribery and conspiracy to commit escape. Heflin was also arrested for the same charges.

Pike Wasn’t Charged

Despite her criminal record and correspondence with Kohut, she was not charged for the escape plan because investigators weren’t sure if she was a participant in the conspiracy. While she didn’t get more charges, Kohut received seven years in a Tennessee prison.

A photo of Pike entering the courtroom.
Christa Pike. Source: Pinterest

Meanwhile, Heflin didn’t receive prison time, but he was terminated from his job. We doubt he will be able to get another correctional job with the arrest on his record. The interruption of the plan kept Tennessee citizens safe from a fugitive on the streets.

Slemmer’s Family Are Fed Up

It has been over two decades since their daughter was brutally murdered, and Slemmer’s family has had enough. In 2021, they asked the courts to set an execution date for Pike. Slemmer’s mom, May Martinez, said she relives the pain every day.

A portrait of Slemmer.
Source: Pinterest

Pike has never tried to apologize to Slemmer’s family, so they want her to face her punishment. When Pike is dead, Slemmer’s family can finally have the piece of skull back so they can lay her to rest. They can’t have it back while she is alive.

“They Both Get Fame From It”

Martinez has suffered for years because she doesn’t feel like her daughter’s case is fully over. She said that while Pike and Shipp have been in jail, they have been giving interviews about their crimes. They receive fame while Martinez has to live life without her child.

Martinez speaks during an interview.
May Martinez. Source: YouTube

Slemmer’s mom wants Pike to be executed. Martinez said that if that doesn’t happen, “nobody will see justice.” She hasn’t been able to forgive Pike because Martinez hasn’t seen any change in her attitude. Pike is just as evil as the day she killed Slemmer.

A New Execution Date

In August 2020, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery requested the Tennessee Supreme Court to set an execution date for Pike. Her attorneys were granted a series of extensions to come up with an argument as to why she shouldn’t be executed, but they were also dealing with another death row case.

A news photographer collects video of the electric chair.
Photo by Mike Simons/Getty Images

A year later, in 2021, Pike’s lawyers were still trying to have her sentence commuted. The state has conducted 13 executions since 1976. If Pike is executed, she will be the first teenaged offender put to death in Tennessee.

Why Did She Kill?

While no one will truly understand why Pike became a killer, people have tried to figure out what got her to the point of murdering someone. According to her mother, Pike was incorrigible by the time she was eight. She was born prematurely and never bonded with her mom.

An image of Christa in court.
Source: News Sentinel Archive

After her grandmother died, Pike was abused by her mother’s boyfriends and kicked out of her father’s house twice. At her trial, Pike’s father said she was disobedient, dishonest, and manipulative. He said he kicked her out for possibly abusing his 2-year-old daughter.

There Were Signs of Trouble

Long before she became a murderer, there were many indications that Pike had severe problems. When she was hit with a belt by her mother’s boyfriend, Pike wielded a butcher knife against him before calling to police. However, no one sought help for Pike.

A photo of Christa looking at her lawyer in court.
Source: News Sentinel Archive

Her aunt refused to allow her children to associate with Pike. Despite knowing the conditions of Pike’s living situation in a filthy home with no rules, her aunt never tried to help or take her away and get her counseling.

She Can’t Be Helped

Pike was diagnosed as having BPD. People with borderline personality disorder have poor impulse control and are sometimes compared to psychopaths in their behavior. People with BPD are usually highly resistant to treatment. Pike’s family said she refused to abide by the basic rules of society.

A closeup of Christa’s facial expression during her trial.
Christa Pike. Source: News Sentinel Archive

If she couldn’t change as a child, there is no way Pike can change now. She has passed more than one legal sanity test, but nothing can be done to help her because she doesn’t want to be helped. Many wonder if it was ever possible to save her.