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‘This Is the Work of the Devil’: Tennessee Mom Convicted of Murdering Her Four Young Children by Slitting Their Throats

Shanynthia Gardner

Shanynthia Gardner

A mother in Tennessee has been convicted in the violent killings of four of her five children. Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Lammey Jr. on Tuesday found Shanynthia Gardner guilty on a slew of charges—including four counts of first-degree murder—for fatally stabbing and slitting the throats of her young kids, rejecting the 34-year-old’s insanity defense, the district attorney’s office announced.

In a non-jury bench trial, Lammey said that Gardner was able to “appreciate the wrongfulness” of her actions when she repeatedly stabbed 4-year-old Tallen Gardner 3-year-old Sya Gardner, 2-year-old Sahvi Gardner, and 6-month-old Yahzi Gardner.

Prosecutors with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office had conceded that Gardner had a mental illness, but argued that she was still aware of what she was doing and that it was wrong.

“Our position from day one is that she has a mental disease, but we’ve always felt that she could appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions,” Chief Prosecutor Eric Christensen of the DA’s Special Victims Unit said in a statement. “Our goal was to get justice for these four babies – Tallen, Sya, Sahvi and Yazhi.”

Gardner’s oldest child, 7-year-old Dallen Clayton, was able to evade his mother’s attacks and made it safely out of their Memphis apartment near Cross Road and East Shelby Drive.

Deputies with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office responded to a 911 call about a possible stabbing at Gardner’s home at around noon on July 1, 2016, prosecutors said. Upon arriving at the scene, first responders found that the four kids had suffered “severe stab wounds.”

According to a report from CBS News, two of the children—Yahzi and Sya—were found in the living room. Yahzi was reportedly still in her baby carrier while Sya was positioned alongside the carrier. Tallen and Sahvi were both found in the same bedroom. All four kids were found with “severe lacerations to the throat” and were pronounced dead on the scene, CBS reported.

After escaping the apartment, Dallen was reportedly able to flag down a pedestrian and tell the man that his mother had just stabbed his sister, per a police affidavit. That man later told police that right after he was approached by Dallen, he saw Gardner exit her apartment holding a large knife in one hand. He reportedly said that after she spotted him, she turned around and went back inside of her apartment.

Her husband reportedly told investigators that she had been having problems in the weeks leading up to the murders, saying that she felt “someone is trying to harm her and her family.”

Sonya Clayton, Dallen’s grandmother, told CBS she remembered Shanynthia as a “sweet young lady” and said she didn’t understand what could’ve happened.

“I know this is the work of the devil,” she said. “I know this is not Shanynthia. And I pray and I love Shanynthia.”

In addition to the murder charges, Gardner was also found guilty on four counts each of aggravated child abuse, murder in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect involving a deadly weapon, murder in the perpetration of aggravated child neglect involving a deadly weapon, aggravated child endangerment involving a deadly weapon, and murder in the perpetration of aggravated child endangerment involving a deadly weapon.

Gardner is scheduled to appear in court again on Jan. 28, 2022 for her sentencing hearing, though the DA’s office noted that each count of first-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence.

[image via Shelby County Sheriff]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.