Outside the courtroom, Sabrina Taggart recalled the last bit of advice she had given her daughter. “Be careful of the people you’re around,” she said.
“Yes, Mommy,” Jennifer Taggart replied.
Minutes later, the teenager climbed into the back seat of a car driven by a man she did not know. She had no idea the car was stolen or that Kenneth Goggins was a habitual felon who had smoked marijuana earlier in the day.
Jennifer would have celebrated her 18th birthday on Friday.
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In September, Goggins floored it when police tried to stop him in a Walmart parking lot for driving the stolen car. Though officers turned off their sirens and lights, Goggins powered west on Wilkinson Boulevard.
Police watched from a helicopter as he lost control of the Kia when another car pulled in front of him. The Kia crashed into a brick building.
Goggins was wearing his seat belt. Jennifer and front-seat passenger Sarah Bianca Love, 22, were not. Both died.
Sentenced to prison
On Thursday, Goggins accepted an agreement with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter that will keep him in prison for almost nine years.
Sabrina Taggart had some business to settle with him first.
She walked slowly to the front of the courtroom and asked Superior Court Judge Bob Bell to forgive her if she began to cry. She later said Jennifer was standing beside her “because this is what she wanted me to do.”
With Goggins standing a few feet away, she told the judge that God had put her on a path and a journey “so great that it would be wrong for me not to forgive him. I hope he can accept the journey he’s been given, too.”
Afterward, the mother said forgiveness had given her a greater sense of peace. “That’s when I feel closest to Jennifer,” she explained.
Lengthy criminal record
Goggins, 24, has a criminal history that includes several stolen car offenses, drugs, robbery, firearms and reckless driving. Bell sentenced him as a habitual felon, a designation that lengthened his prison time.
After asking for a chance to speak, Goggins apologized to “Sarah and Jennifer” and told the courtroom he bears the responsibility for their deaths.
“It’s not something I take lightly.”
He also thanked Sabrina Taggart for her forgiveness, and expressed hope that his journey will end well. “I hope this will make me a better man, help me make better decisions in the future.”
Outside the court, Sabrina Taggart wept as she answered questions about her daughter. Jennifer had been named after the small waves – jennifers – that lap the shore on her native Folly Beach. As a child, she had been severely mauled by a dog but had grown up a lover of all animals, including dogs.
On Friday, when her family celebrates the dead girl’s birthday, Jennifer will get pearl earrings and a necklace. Sabrina Taggart smiled at the thought.
She was interrupted by Goggins’ attorney.
Lizzie Goggins, the driver’s mother, wanted a word. And there in the corridor, as the machinery of law and justice jostled around them, the two mothers held hands, talked softly about their children and their faith in the future.
Then they hugged.