Supporters seek earlier prison release for day care owner who shot husband over sex abuse claims

Shanteari Weems and James Weems Jr.
Shanteari Weems and James Weems Jr. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Lil' Kidz Kastle Daycare Center, LinkedIn)

Supporters of a former day care owner in Baltimore County, Md., are calling for an earlier prison release for her after she shot her husband over allegations that he had sexually abused multiple children who were in their care.

In early February, Superior Court Judge Michael O'Keefe rejected a plea deal reached between the prosecution and the defense, and sentenced Shanteari Weems to four years in prison and two years of supervised probation upon her release.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, Weems, 50, had pleaded guilty to one count each of aggravated assault and carrying a pistol without a license in the shooting, which happened in July 2022. Prosecutors recommended only a two-year sentence for both counts. But O’Keefe rebuked Weems for taking the law into her own hands, calling the shooting premeditated.

Weems’s husband, James Weems Jr., is facing criminal charges in connection with the sex abuse allegations. His attorney, Thomas Pavlinic, told Yahoo News he believes in the “presumption of innocence” and finds it “deplorable” that a person would shoot someone else under any circumstances.

“What does one say to those who express outrage and condone vigilantism without having all the facts?” Pavlinic said in a statement.

On Twitter, TikTok and other social media platforms, Shanteari Weems’s supporters have used the hashtag #FreeShanteari to express their outrage about the outcome of the case.

Shanteari Weems had been the owner of Lil' Kidz Kastle Daycare Center in Owings Mills, Md., since 2005. James, 58, who retired in 2005 from the Baltimore Police Department, was the bus driver at the center for two years.

“We were both supposed to be on this crusade of saving children, and child molestation is something that we had talked about all the time, how horrible it was,” Shanteari told WUSA9 in an interview from jail.

Prosecutors said that several days before the shooting, Shanteari Weems had heard from children and teachers at the center that her husband had touched children inappropriately. At first, she said, she believed him when he said he didn’t do it. She eventually reported him to Baltimore police, but she says police were vague about the allegations, shutting down her center during the ongoing investigation.

But on July 21, 2022, Weems said, she was “totally broken” after the mother of a child who had been under her care for years came to her and claimed the abuse happened in the day care van, where there were no cameras.

"I saw the pain in her face, and I knew that she was not lying," Weems said. "I felt like the blood had just drained out of my body because ... this was my husband."

That same day, her lawyer Tony Garcia said, she went to D.C.’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where her husband was working as a security guard, hoping he could “explain it away.”

"I trusted him fully," she told WUSA9. "He was supposed to help me protect these children. He always told me he was my protector. So when I heard this, I just felt like — I just felt like my world had ended."

Weems said she “snapped” during the confrontation with her husband. She shot him in his neck and leg.

Jolene Ivey, a council member in Prince George's County, Md., told Yahoo News she was horrified after hearing Weems’s story and was one of the many supporters who showed up for her sentencing hearing.

“I came into the courtroom and sat in the back and I just, I could not believe it,” Ivey said. “I thought that she was very compelling. When she spoke, she spoke from the heart and she didn't say she'd done the right thing.”

Police said Weems wrote in a notebook that she did not want to kill her husband, but only to wound him and get justice for the children. She said she isn’t a violent person. Her supporters believe she should not have been judged based on one moment in her life.

“The judge in this case, he's really created a martyr,” Ivey said. “There's a groundswell of support. I mean, if he had just given her the two years, everybody would have said, 'Well, you know, you can't go around shooting people for any reason.' She got a sentence that she had agreed to and she can move on with her life when she gets out, but her sentencing is extremely unjust. She wasn't saying she shouldn't serve any time at all. They agreed that two years was sufficient for the crime. When that judge doubled the time, I was just dumbfounded, like, 'For what purpose?'"

"Never have I been hit like that in trial without warning or without some sort of courtesy that the judge disagreed with the agreement between the parties," Garcia told WUSA9.

"Despite my surroundings, I'm doing OK," Shanteari Weems told the TV station. "I have a lot of supporters and people who uplift me and help me survive."

CBS News reported that 93 children were interviewed as part of the investigation by Baltimore authorities. According to Baltimore County Circuit records, James Weems has been charged with 33 counts of rape and child sex crimes in the case of four children — boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 11. Shanteari Weems has been cooperating with investigators in Baltimore County and filed for divorce in February.

Pavlinic, James Weems’s attorney, suggested that Shanteari's supporters wouldn’t condone her actions if they fully understood the case.

“None of those who condemn Mr. Weems and praise his wife has seen the complainants' videotaped interviews or reviewed the other documentary evidence provided in discovery. Perhaps if they did, they would recognize the implausibility of the accusations, and they would not be so quick to judge,” Pavlinic wrote in his statement.

James Weems is currently being held without bond as he awaits his trial, which is set to begin on May 22.