WASHINGTON — Shanteari Weems viewed herself as a woman on a crusade to save children. Her husband, James Weems, was her partner on that mission.
But when Shanteari Weems learned her husband was accused of molesting children at the day care she owned in Baltimore, she shot him – twice – in a swanky D.C. hotel room. Now, she's speaking out for the first time since a judge surprised both the defense and prosecutors by sentencing her to four years in jail.
"I snapped," Shanteari Weems said in an interview inside D.C.'s Correctional Treatment Facility.
Shanteari Weems says while she’s not a violent person, hearing from a parent at her day care that the man she trusted most in the world had allegedly abused children caused her to break down. On July 21, 2022, she headed to what was then the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest, D.C. to confront her husband. He left the hotel in an ambulance with two bullet holes in his body and she left in a police car.
Six-and-a-half months later, a D.C. judge told Shanteari Weems she had no right to take the law into her own hands. Her supporters were stunned when Superior Court Judge Michael O'Keefe slapped her with a four-year sentence, twice what prosecutors recommended in a plea deal on charges of aggravated assault and carrying a pistol without a license.
"I was emotional," she said of her reaction to the sentence.
The 50-year-old former correctional officer said she's relying on the help of other women behind bars with her, and thinking ahead to what she'll do when she gets out of prison.
"Despite my surroundings, I'm doing OK," Shanteari Weems said. "I have a lot of supporters and people who uplift me and help me survive."
The internet has been filled with support for her under the hashtag #FREESHANTEARI. Many see her as a kind of avenging angel, seeking justice for horrible crimes against children.
Prosecutors have charged James Weems, a retired police officer, with 33 counts of rape and child sex crimes. He’s awaiting trial, and his lawyer, Thomas Plavanic, is declining to comment to reporters.
During sentencing, Judge O'Keefe said Shanteari Weems' attack on her husband was premeditated, not spontaneous. Asst. U.S. Attorney La Vater Massie-Banks said police had told her days earlier that they were investigating her husband, and they’d shut down the day care, Lil Kidz Kastle, while they looked into the allegations of child sexual abuse.
But Shanteari Weems says police were very vague about the allegations and who was under investigation.
"The only person I had to find out information from was my husband," she said. "And he kept saying he didn't do it ... I did believe him."
But then the mother of a child she’d loved and cared for for years said they had to talk.
"I saw the pain in her face, and I knew she was not lying," Shanteari Weems said. "She finally said it was my husband."
Shanteari Weems described that moment as the moment she broke.
"I felt like the blood had just drained out of my body because ... it was my husband," she said, her eyes glistening with tears. "He was supposed to help me protect these children. He always told me he was my protector. So when I heard this, I just felt like – I just felt like my world had ended."
Hearing the allegations against James Weems, she said, was a betrayal of her trust, and it forced her to confront what she viewed as her own failure.
“We were both supposed to be on this crusade of saving children, and child molestation is something that we had talked about all the time, how horrible it was,” she said. “I think about that child all the time. I think about all the children all the time."
She took her first drink in 20 years and, according to prosecutors, texted her business partner, “I’m going to kill him and then myself.” She then drove to the hotel and angrily confronted him.
"I snapped, I’m not a violent person,” she said.
She insists the argument spiraled out of control inside the hotel room.
"The situation was kind of like a fire," Shanteari Weems said. "He was fuel. I was fuel ... We poured fuel on that fire. We just got to arguing, fussing, and one thing led to another."
The first shot was in the neck, and the second shot was in the leg. She insists she did not deliberate before firing that second shot.
Judge O'Keefe suggested what she did was "deliberate cruelty" – that she set out to cause a "devastating" and "life-altering injury."
But Shanteari Weems denied that.
"She was confronted with a situation where a child that she had watched take their first steps, go to the first day of [school], learn how to ride a bike, grow up in front of them – she had this parent come to her and broke her whole world," Shanteari Weems' lawyer, Tony Garcia, said. "And in a moment she had a drink and confronted that person in just a moment ... And to measure her by, I don't know, one minute, five minutes – 40 minutes out of her entire lifetime of good? To me it's terrible."
Garcia said he was shocked, stunned and angry when Judge O'Keefe doubled the sentence prosecutors had agreed to.
"Never have I been hit like that in trial without warning or without some sort of courtesy that the judge disagreed with the agreement between the parties," the lawyer said.
If the judge had declined in advance to accept the terms of the plea agreement, Garcia said they would likely have gone to trial and hoped a jury would have sympathized with Shanteari Weems. He has filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider her four-year sentence.
Shanteari Weems admitted she contemplated killing herself.
"I feel I let my family down," she said. "I feel like I let those kids' families down. I feel like I just trusted the wrong person.”
When asked if she feels remorse, Shanteari Weems said she's sorry for what she has done, but she's not going so far as to apologize to her husband.
“I will apologize when he apologizes to those children,” she said.
Shanteari Weems filed for divorce in February. She’s been cooperating with investigators in Baltimore County, who have charged her husband with molesting four children, boys and girls between the ages of 9 and 11.
She hopes when she gets out of prison, in about four years, she can start a nonprofit to fight child abuse.
"I’m definitely going to make a great batch of lemonade from these lemons I’ve been dealt," she said.