Zhane began reading from her cellphone, compressing her anger, grief and loss into a handful of lines. She used her final words to wrest back control of the tragedy from her sister’s killer, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in June.
“At one point, I felt like you ruined my life, but I’m not giving you the power anymore,” Zhane read calmly. “’Cause no one in this situation has to suffer but you. You think you won by ending my sister’s life, but you are in for a rude awakening.”
That moment probably came sooner than anyone anticipated as Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows issued a rare life sentence for a juvenile offender, imposing the maximum sentence on Ebrahim, now 19. Jholie’s family members, many of whom wore “#justice4Jholie” T-shirts, burst into applause in the courtroom.
Syreeta Steward, Jholie’s mother, said afterward that the sentence was as “good as it’s going to get” but that it did not erase the loss she had said in earlier testimony “rocked our family to the core.”
Jholie was braiding her sister’s hair on the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2018, when she suddenly told Zhane she needed to leave their Mount Vernon-area home, Zhane testified. Jholie vanished, sparking an extensive search that went viral online and generated help from hundreds of volunteers.
Family members’ suspicions immediately turned to Ebrahim, whom Jholie had met at Mount Vernon High School. He was a stellar student who had been accepted to multiple colleges and played basketball, but he had anger issues.
In September 2017, he assaulted Jholie, an incident that led to his removal from Mount Vernon High School. Ebrahim then blamed Jholie for his landing in a school for troubled teens. Prosecutors said that anger grew into hatred.
Zhane testified that roughly a month before her sister’s slaying, Jholie told her that Ebrahim had choked her into unconsciousness.
“She said she knows how death feels,” Zhane said Jholie had told her of the choking incident. “She remembered it so vividly.”
Jholie told her twin she would cut off contact with Ebrahim, but she never did.
Prosecutors said Ebrahim thought at the time that he had killed Jholie and even texted a friend to say that he needed to find a place to hide. The incident was never reported to police. Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Casey Lingan told the judge that Ebrahim could have stayed away from Jholie after that burst of violence but didn’t.
“He has a second chance after the first choking,” Lingan said. “This is the fork in the road where he tells us who he is.”
On the day of the slaying, Jholie met Ebrahim at a park near her home, where they argued about his placement at Bryant High School, an alternative school. Ebrahim put Jholie in what he would tell detectives was an “MMA-style chokehold” until she passed out.
He lowered her body to the ground and then choked her again for nearly a minute with both hands. He then propped her body up and choked her a third time for another three to five minutes, until his hands grew tired and he stopped.
Ebrahim covered Jholie’s body in some leaves. In the days that followed, he would return with a butcher knife and scratch out a shallow grave. By then, the search was well underway.
On the night of the slaying, to buy some time, Ebrahim texted Zhane from Jholie’s phone, writing as Jholie, to say she was headed to a party in Norfolk. He initially told police that he had not talked with Jholie, before eventually admitting that he killed her. Jholie’s body was found in the park two weeks after her slaying.
“I’m sorry,” Ebrahim told Jholie’s family before he was sentenced. “I apologize for not treating your daughter with the utmost respect.”