Inside the Courts

A fight over parentage focuses on the fine print

La-Reko Williams
La-Reko Williams

Five years ago, a fight with his girlfriend set in motion a series of events that ended La-Reko Williams’ life.

It started on a Lynx ride the night of July 20, 2011, then escalated as the couple left the train at Woodlawn Road. A Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer became involved. He later testified that he fired his Taser when Williams repeatedly tried to leave the scene. The officer says he fired again because Williams ignored his orders and struggled to get to his feet. At that point, Williams’ heart stopped.

Last summer, a federal jury decided the second shock was excessive, awarding the dead man’s parents $500,000 in their wrongful death lawsuit against the officer.

Now, another dispute with a woman in Williams’ life is working its way through the courts. The legal fight quietly began in July 2014, a few weeks before the lawsuit against the officer went to trial, when lawyers for Khadaijah Chardonnay Krider filed a routine document in the Mecklenburg courthouse.

In it, Krider said Williams was the father of her son, Kamari, and that the child should be sole heir to Williams’ estate. Within a month, that estate would grow exponentially from the lawsuit award. Williams, 21, had no will.

At the hospital on the day Kamari was born, court records say, Williams signed “an affidavit of parentage” acknowledging the newborn to be his own. The boy was 3 months old when his father died.

On the same day Krider filed her motion, Williams’ parents denied that their son was Kamari’s father and argued that the child did not qualify as an heir. Their attorney, Charles Everage of Charlotte, said Friday that Krider would never have made the claim had a potentially large jury payout not been in play.

A month after the jury returned its half-million dollar verdict, former Clerk of Court Martha Curran ruled that Kamari was not Williams’ legal heir. Curran, among other things, said Williams had failed to file the parentage affidavit with the clerk’s office before his death. Curran also dismissed arguments that the state law denies equal protection to children born to unmarried parents.

After an appeal to Superior Court, Judge John Bowers sided with the clerk, ruling that Kamari did not meet the state’s inheritance requirements because of Williams’ failure to file the form – even though his life had been cut short.

Bowers acknowledged that the legislature changed the inheritance law in 2013 – allowing DNA to determine parentage when a father dies within a year after a birth. Kamari didn’t qualify because the change applied only to babies born on or after June 26, 2013. Bowers said the deadline created “a harsh result” for Kamari but not an unconstitutional one.

This week, Bowers’ decision was upheld by the N.C. Court of Appeals, which ruled that the failure of Kamari’s parents to follow the letter of the law left their child with no case. Everage said the judges followed the law. Williams’ parents still don’t believe Kamari is their grandson, he said, and they question whether their son signed the parentage affidavit under duress or whether he signed it at all.

The fight will go on. Charlotte attorney Matt Arnold says Kamari’s constitutional rights have “clearly been violated” and the case will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.