“This is the first step towards accountability,” Newport News mom sentenced

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 3:05 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 at 7:35 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Deja Taylor was sentenced to 21 months in the first court case regarding the attempted murder of Abby Zwerner.

Deja Taylor is the mother of the six-year-old boy who shot his teacher Abby Zwerner, a JMU alumni, while in the classroom. The incident took place in Newport News Public Schools.

After the shooting reached national news, Zwerner is in the process of suing NNPS for $40 million dollars after the school failed to protect her life with multiple warnings that the child might have a gun on the campus that day.

Amanda “AC” Rieman is a legal analyst with AC Rieman Law Firm. She said the results of Taylor’s first case set the precedent for how the rest of the justice served will unfold.

“This is the first step towards accountability meaning the judge handed down the exact sentence the prosecutors asked for,” Rieman said. “21 months is what the prosecutors asked for and 21 months is exactly what she got.”

Taylor was sentenced to 21 months in prison for her drug possession conviction. Although marijuana is legal in some capacities in Virginia, Rieman said Taylor falsified documents to purchase her firearm since marijuana is not federally legal.

”Subsequent searches by the police indicated that Deja Taylor was using marijuana and she knowingly falsified that document,” Rieman said. “There is a knowing dangerousness to operating guns with ammunition while you are high and under the influence.”

Rieman said every civil case has to have a basis on four principles:

  • Duty
  • Breach
  • Causation
  • and Damages.

She said Zwerner’s case fits all of these principles, and Zwerner can make a compelling argument for her lawsuit.

“The school had a duty to protect its teachers and its students that attended the school. That was breached when that shooting occurred. There’s clear causation, that relationship between that student and that teacher and there are damages,” Rieman said. “Abby Zwerner said she obviously stayed in the hospital for a couple of weeks. She has injuries to her hand and her upper chest but she has psychological aspects that will affect her profoundly for years to come.”

Rieman said Zwerner suffers from PTSD now and cannot love children the way she did before she was shot.

Though Taylor is not the perpetrator of the case, Rieman said her son is too young to rationalize the desire to injure his teacher, even after statements that were said by the child after the shooting. Taylor’s charges are on the basis of neglect and lies, rather than the assault itself.

“Because of the unprecedented nature of this case, they are unable to charge the six-year-old,” Rieman said. “The six-year-old was the perpetrator of this crime. But that six-year-old in looking back in history, they can’t form that intent to have that malicious ‘I want to kill,’ even if his statements after the shooting indicate otherwise.”

Rieman said Taylor’s sentence is an indicator of much of the justice that will be served in these cases after both Taylor and the Newport News Public Schools system failed Abby Zwerner.

“I think this case is a perfect example of finding accountability when there has been an extreme injustice,” Rieman said. “Here, there is absolutely no doubt someone who was innocent was hurt.”

In Zwerner’s victim statement at Taylor’s hearing, she said:

“I feel as if I have lost my purpose. I loved children, and now I’m scared to have a job involving them. I was in love with my career, and now it’s been stripped of me.”