Pregnant Virginia Woman Violently Murdered in Her Home
Keiona Braxton was elated about her pregnancy, but the mom-to-be would die just months into the pregnancy at the hands of a violent killer who left her for dead inside her own apartment.
Keiona Braxton had nearly everything she’d ever dreamt of.
The 26-year-old was on the verge of getting a promotion at work, was planning to marry her boyfriend, and had just learned that she was pregnant.
But Keiona’s dreams were violently extinguished on New Year’s Eve 2008 when someone brutally attacked her in her own Virginia home.
Henrico County Police were called to the home around 6 a.m. after neighbors reported smoke coming from an upstairs bedroom of the apartment.
The fire department broke through the door and discovered a bloody scene inside. Keiona lay dead at the back of the apartment near the patio door.
An autopsy would later determine the mom-to-be had been hit in the head 12 times, stabbed 43 times in the abdomen, and shot in the abdomen, making it appear that Keiona and her unborn child had both been targeted in the attack.
“The fact that almost all the stab wounds were in the abdomen and she was shot in the abdomen, in my view, it’s probably not a coincidence,” said Kevin Connolly, a now retired supervisor with the U.S. Marshals.
Investigators believed the killer had attacked Keiona and then set a fire in the upstairs bedroom. Authorities found the gas range in the kitchen had also been turned on, but the knobs had been taken from the range and someone had shoved aerosol cans inside the oven in the hopes that it would cause an explosion.
“It was clear that the fire was set to try to cover up the murder,” now retired Henrico County Police Lt. Charles Hanna told the show,
It was clear Keiona’s death was a homicide, but who could have wanted to harm the 26-year-old who was known to her family as a hard worker who loved to spend her free time painting her nails and doing her hair?
Police wanted to begin by taking a hard look at one of the people closest to her, her live-in boyfriend Kenny Lee.
“Keiona and Kenny, they loved each other, but I just always thought there was something weird about him, like he was hiding from something,” her sister Temeal Smith said.
According to Smith, Lee hadn’t been happy when he learned Keiona was pregnant. He was already the father of a young girl named Makayla, whom he shared with his high school sweetheart Kayla Armstrong.
“Maybe he thought this was his way out,” Smith said.
But Keiona’s mom, Joyce Sauls, said Keiona told her before her death that Lee had “went on and accepted it.”
“She was pregnant. They was going to get married,” Saul said. “I was happy for them.”
Lee also told police that at the time of Keiona’s death he had been out of town for work, making a delivery near the Philadelphia area. His alibi was backed up by cell phone records placing him in Pennsylvania, hotel receipts, and his workplace, which verified the deliveries had been made by Lee as expected.
“He was not a viable suspect for this murder,” said Henrico County Police Lt. Andrew Stromberg, now retired.
When detectives asked Lee whether he knew of anyone who might have wanted to harm Keiona, he told investigators there had been bad blood between his ex, Kayla Armstrong, and Keiona.
“When Kenny and Keiona started talking, Kenny had just got out of a relationship with Kayla Armstrong,” Paulette explained. “He broke up with her, but when he was done, she wasn’t done. Kayla just wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Detectives learned that 18 months before the murder, Armstrong and Keiona had gotten into a physical confrontation and Armstrong stabbed Keiona, requiring her to get 22 stitches in her head.
Armstrong was arrested in May of 2006 and served four months in jail for the assault.
According to Smith, the incident “scared” Keiona and “kind of woke her up.” When Armstrong got out of jail, the threats continued.
Keiona filed another police report in November 2007 after Armstrong made comments alluding to “adding more stitches,” Hanna said.
Keiona sought out a restraining order.
“My sister would go to court for a restraining order and she would tell the judge, ‘This girl is trying to kill me, Kayla is trying to kill me. She’s going to kill me,’” Smith said.
The tension between the women was rooted in jealousy.
“(Kenny) and I have a daughter together, and for that reason, if no other, we will always be together,” Armstrong once allegedly said, according to a police report obtained by Killer Relationship with Faith Jenkins. “And he will always be my man. No woman will ever take him away from me. I won’t let it happen!”
As part of the restraining order, Armstrong was supposed to stay in the car during custody exchanges with Lee but just three days before her death Keiona’s family said Armstrong burst through the door of their apartment and got into another physical confrontation with Keiona.
Lee had to separate the two women.
Police brought Armstrong in for questioning and she dismissed their feuds as “girlfriend, baby mama drama.”
She insisted she had nothing to do with the murder, but as detectives continued to talk about Keiona’s death, Armstrong had a very strange reaction.
“The weirdest thing about the interview was that as we started talking about murder she started, not burping, but belching over and over,” Hanna said.
They arrested her for the assault that took place just days before the murder and sent her to jail. But six months after the murder, a judge threw out the case because he didn’t feel there was enough evidence to show who had instigated the fight and she was released from jail.
“It was a blow to the investigation,” Hanna said. “Once she got out, it was just tougher to deal with a lot of the witnesses.”
Investigators were unable to find any DNA at the crime scene to link Armstrong — or anyone else — to the murder. But they did discover that the night before the murder, Armstrong had placed several calls to Keiona’s next door neighbors to ask whether Lee was home that night.
“Those are all things that add to the circumstantial evidence,” Hanna said.
Still, the prosecutor did not feel there was enough evidence to charge Armstrong and years went by as Keiona's anguished family waited for justice.
“I just trust in God and believe in God and God just brought me through it,” Saul said of how she coped.
But three years after the murder, there was a new commonwealth attorney who agreed to take on the case.
Armstrong was indicted, but managed to slip away before police could make an arrest. On January 20, 2012 the U.S. Marshals eventually tracked her to a friend’s home where she was found hiding in a closet.
After learning that Lee planned to testify against her in her upcoming trial, Lt. Stromberg said police learned that she tried to hire someone in jail to kill him. Luckily, the inmate happened to be a jailhouse informant and an attempted murder charge was tacked onto the charges against Armstrong.
“This was a frustrating case,” Hanna said. ‘There really was no smoking gun.”
Given the circumstantial nature of the case, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal. Armstrong took an alford plea, meaning she acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict her but did not admit guilt. She was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for voluntary manslaughter in Keiona’s death and 20 years for the attempted murder charge.
According to Paulette, Lee is now raising his daughter Makayla and living a “wonderful” life.
“I’ve talked to Kenny recently,” she said. “He said how much he loved Keiona, saying, you know, I’m just so sorry.”
Her killer may be behind bars, but for Keiona’s family, it won’t bring her or her unborn baby back.
“When she was taken away, the world lost a good one,” Smith said.