The papers covered Tiesha’s story for several days but then lost interest. Her friends were furious. What separates a Tiesha Sargeant from an Imette St. Guillen, they say, is geography and race. “Tiesha unfortunately died on the wrong island of NYC, and was born black,” one friend wrote in a blog. Said another, “If she was a single white female lost in the Caribbean, we’d still be hearing about it.”
Late last month, on a sweltering Monday morning, Keve Huggins appeared at the Brooklyn courthouse for a court proceeding on the drug arrest. The whole thing took just a minute—a date for another court visit was set for September. “Just trying to keep me in the system,” Keve said, lighting a cigarette on his way out the door.
A little later, Keve and I sat down for breakfast at a coffee shop, and Keve shared his side of things. He pointed out that the papers misspelled his name—it’s not Keeve, but Keve. The truth, he said, is he’s not so much a party promoter as a graphic designer who works for party promoters. Keve didn’t betray the slightest notion that he and Tiesha were from different worlds. “I had late nights working, but she understood,” Keve said. “We were building a future together. She was institutionalized—she could get an interview with someone I couldn’t. At Conde.net, she had an inside edge. But in the industry I was in, I had contacts, too.”
Tiesha wasn’t afraid to talk about race. When a white classmate would touch her hair and make a remark about how coarse it was, she would want to go back and teach that person about black people’s hair.
He spoke of Tiesha reverentially. “She wasn’t the club type,” he said. “I work with these people, and that’s not what I wanted. She carried herself well. She could hold a conversation. She wasn’t into material things. She was a lady. She definitely was the epitome of what a woman should be.”
He was helping her live within her means, he says, not in the white-collar aspirational mode she’d been stuck in. “She told me I was helping her learn to save money. She had student loans, but she’d take cabs and charge things. She consolidated her debt and was working it out. We had everything in common—music, lifestyle. We never had any bad days, no arguments. Just two days before, she told me I made her happy. I felt great about that.”
Then he told his version of what happened the night Tiesha was killed. He said he fell asleep around midnight, after Tiesha gave him a hug and kiss. He said he woke up with a sheet over him, laying on the couch with Tiesha on top of him and his hands bound around her with one of those plastic binds that police use. He said Tiesha never said a word, even though they were bound together and she was still alive. He said he heard voices asking where the money was, then fifteen seconds of quiet, then a shot, then scurrying footsteps and silence. That’s when he broke free and dialed 911. He said he told police that he had Tiesha’s phone with him at police headquarters, and that it rang once, and that the call came from his phone, which the intruders had stolen. He said the police won’t track down that lead.
I asked about drug dealing. “Police is police, man. They tell you anything they want to tell you because they want it in the papers. They don’t want to do their jobs. That was my girlfriend. She was going to be my future wife. I don’t have any reason to hold back information. But the police have nothing to go on. They need a bad guy.”
I mentioned that the police say he told them he sold $6,000 worth of pot that day.
“Is that relevant to the story?” he said. “I don’t think so. I’m still the person I was. I feel whoever did this didn’t know who Tiesha was. I think their conscience is going to start playing against them.”
At her standing-room-only June memorial at CSFB, speaker after speaker painted the same picture of Tiesha—lovable yet iron-willed, ambitious yet idealistic. It took Tiesha’s father, an hour into the proceedings, to broach the inelegant reality of how she died. “The truth is, Tiesha was killed,” he said. “Tiesha was murdered. Execution-style. That is blunt and that is awful. I know you are all outraged. But I say this now—that I owe it to my wife and family and all of you to find out the truth.” He left the podium to thunderous applause.
Tiesha never wrote a senior thesis for her Mellon fellowship. But one essay she wrote, published in the Mellon annual journal, offers a glimpse of what she saw in Keve, why she was in that apartment. The essay is about another black woman who meets an untimely death: Bessie Mears, murdered in Native Son by Bigger Thomas—the literary epitome of black rage. Most readers focus on the white woman Bigger also killed, a main character named Mary Dalton, but Tiesha focuses on Bessie, a minor character and a black woman. “Utilizing Bessie as a mirror, Bigger sees nothing but his own inadequacy reflected back at him,” Tiesha writes.