Charlette James Dawkins was born on December 11, 2013 in Voorhees, New Jersey to young parents Kaitlin Roysdon and Anthony Dawkins. By the age of three, she was the embodiment of an angel on Earth with her cherubic cheeks, her long, glowing blond curls, her big blue eyes, and her radiant smile. She was, as her grandmother Renay Rodriguez described her on Facebook, “tiny but she was mighty and so lovable!” Renay affectionately called her “NeNe’s Baby,” and her husband, Javier, called Charlette “Abuelo’s Baby.” Her godmother, Keirstyn, called her “Little Babe.” Her vast extended family doted on her. She adored both princesses and superheroes. “She liked tiaras,” Renay told NJ.com, “but she liked to dress up like Batman. Everyone who met her loved her.”
Unfortunately, one person — her mother’s then-21-year-old boyfriend, Travis Graham — lacked the love and caring for Charlette that everyone else in her life possessed. Instead of spoiling her, adoring her, teaching her, and helping to raise her, he put a violent end to her short life.
According to Travis when he first spoke to police, on March 13, 2017, he was watching Charlette alone at the house he shared on Bittersweet Drive in Gloucester Township, New Jersey with Kaitlin, to whom he had proposed marriage just two months before. He claimed that after Charlette cracked the screen of her iPad, he told her to go to bed. As she headed upstairs toward her bedroom, he overheard her fall down the stairs but was able to catch her before she hit the bottom. Travis told police that Charlette was upset for about 30 minutes afterward and then fell asleep. When he tried to awaken her from her nap, he said, he noticed traces of blood on her mouth; he claimed he attempted to perform CPR on the child before he drove her to Jefferson Stratford Hospital.
Charlette was airlifted to Cooper University Hospital in Camden, where doctors in the pediatric intensive care unit found her pupils fixed and dilated, indicating a brain injury. They also discovered multiple healing rib fractures and bruises on her forehead, chest, abdomen, and legs. Several times, Charlette went into cardiac arrest, and she was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury. A physician’s evaluation concluded that “the history, physical examination, and diagnostic studies are diagnostic of child physical abuse to a medical degree of certainty.”
According to the Charlette’s Voice Facebook page, which is maintained by Charlette’s godmother, Keirstyn Myers:
Charlette’s family allowed her organs to be donated. At least one small bit of good came out of this precious baby’s death.
Shortly thereafter, authorities began to investigate Charlette’s death, which Travis claimed was a tragic accident but which family members and law enforcement suspected was caused by something more ominous. The Medical Examiner’s office ruled the manner of Charlette’s death undetermined at the time, but it would not remain that way.
Despite the dubious circumstances surrounding Charlette’s death and Travis’s suspected involvement, Kaitlin continued to defend him, at times butting heads with her mother and other family members over her support of the man her family felt had murdered her daughter. On October 10, 2017, about seven months after Charlette died, Kaitlin gave birth to another daughter, who, not long after, was removed from the young couple’s custody and placed with a relative. In February of 2018, Kaitlin and Travis Graham were married.
When detectives detained Travis in July 2018 on charges of taking part in five separate armed robberies, they questioned him again regarding Charlette’s death, and this time, his statements contradicted his initial account of the incident.
Travis now said that Charlette, standing at the top of the staircase while refusing to take a nap, pinched him. In retaliation, he backhanded her in the forehead with so much force that she spun around and fell face-first down the stairs, where she lay, unresponsive. He claimed she had wet herself, so he changed her soiled clothing and took her to the hospital five minutes after the incident. However, text messages he sent to Kaitlin indicate he actually waited three hours before he walked into the emergency room carrying Charlette’s “lifeless body,” according to the probable cause statement for his arrest.
At 12:38 PM, he texted Kaitlin: “lol nvm char just threw a hissy fit and dropped dead weight while walking up the stairs. I caught her but she banged her head.”
At 1:35 PM, he wrote: “her head is pretty bad with bruises.”
And at 3:26 PM, he texted: “Going to emergency room.”
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office investigated Charlette’s death for a long 16 months, but in July 2018, prosecutors announced they anticipated filing charges against Travis in Charlette’s death. Renay told NJ.com that as this was announced in court, her husband, Javier Rodriguez, couldn’t resist clapping a few times inside the somber courtroom.
Prosecutors had to wait for a report from the medical examiner, who at last ruled Charlette’s death a homicide — cause: blunt force trauma to the head — in early August of 2018. On August 14, Travis was charged with first-degree murder; an additional charge of endangering the welfare of a child, according to the criminal complaint, stemmed from Travis failing “to timely seek medical treatment for [Charlette’s] obviously serious injuries.”
Renay told NJ.com that she spent a lot of time with her granddaughter until January of 2017, when she confronted her daughter, Kaitlin, about a bruise Charlette had suffered. Kaitlin then cut off contact with her mother. The next Renay heard was on March 13, when she got a call that Charlette was unresponsive in the hospital. Since then, she and many others suspected Travis was to blame for Charlette’s death.
New Jersey’s Division of Child Protection and Permanency would like Kaitlin to shoulder some of that blame. After Travis was charged, DCP&P investigators ruled that Kaitlin Graham also bore some responsibility for her daughter’s death because she “did not make reasonable efforts to protect her child.”
Lacking physical evidence, prosecutors declined to charge Kaitlin in Charlette’s death.
Now 23 years old, Travis was offered a plea deal in May of 2019 in which he was offered a 40-year sentence in exchange for guilty pleas to both the murder charges and the charges related to his five armed robberies, which took place in two different counties. Travis’s attorney countered with the suggestion that he spend only 15 years in prison, a ridiculous offer that the state swiftly batted down. Failing that, Travis expressed his desire to be tried for the crimes, for which he faced possible life in prison.
Before he could be taken to trial, on Friday, June 28, Travis accepted a second plea deal, giving some measure of justice to Charlette’s family. As part of the deal, he pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and three counts of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, thereby admitting he caused Charlette’s death and also took part in a series of robberies to fuel his drug addiction, menacing victims with a knife or an air-soft gun while high on drugs.
When asked about his drug use, Travis explained, “I just wanted to forget a lot of stuff.”
Travis is currently also serving a five-year sentence for some of the armed robberies. As part of the June plea deal, the prosecutor’s office said it will ask Superior Court Judge Gwendolyn Blue to sentence Travis to 20 years for manslaughter and 10 years on each robbery charge. The manslaughter sentence must be served before the robbery sentences will begin, and under the terms of New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, Travis must serve at least 85% of each sentence, which means he will spend at minimum 25 1/2 years in prison. Judge Blue will sentence Travis Graham on July 25, 2019.
From Charlette’s obituary: “Charlette was a princess in her own world. She was so smart and had an out of this world personality. She could light up the room with her smile and cared so much about other people. She is a soul that no one will ever forget.”
That’s why we’re here, everybody. Let’s never forget Charlette’s beautiful presence and sweet smile. She deserved so much more than a mere three years on this planet. As I write this, Charlette should be five years old, preparing to go to kindergarten in the fall, and spending every spare moment with her now two-year-old sister.
On a brighter note, it appears Keirstyn is now caring for Charlette’s little sister and absolutely loves her to pieces, which is beautiful and heartwarming. I have a ton of respect for Keirstyn for the way she has thrown every ounce of herself into loving Charlette’s little sister, just as she did Charlette. Charlette’s memory lives on in those who love her, some of whom still post on the Charlette’s Voice page often.
Rest in peace, mighty little angel.
Sources: NJ.com, The Courier-Post, USNews.com, Facebook, Charlette’s Voice Facebook page, McGuinness Funeral Home