On day four of the search for 29-year-old Tena Marie Broadus, her young son walked into the kitchen.
“Aunt Beverly,” he asked, “when are you going to bury my momma?”
“Son,” said Tena Broadus’ aunt, “we’re still looking for her.”
“No,” the boy said. “My momma is gone. I don’t feel her anymore.”
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He was right. Two weeks later, investigators would find his mom’s bones in the Biloxi River and eventually determine that she was murdered Sept. 18, 2015.
Her family watched Thursday as Judge Roger Clark sentenced her killer, 31-year-old Joshua Peterman of Gulfport, to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Peterman, a Simon City Royal and meth dealer, was unrepentant until the end.
He insisted Thursday that he never touched Broadus and that the people who did kill her would soon serve their time and be unleashed once again on the community.
Four others with Peterman at various points on the day Broadus died had pleaded guilty in the case, either to second-degree murder or accessory after the fact for helping dispose of her body.
“To say I am sorry would be fraudulent,” a grim-faced Peterman told the judge. “ . . . The people who did this got clean away with it.”
The day Broadus died
Testimony showed that Peterman dragged Broadus into his garage, tied her up, beat her in the head and eventually strangled her with a rope. He thought she was “a snitch,” witnesses said.
He had help dumping her body into a 55-gallon barrel in the woods, then setting it alight. The next morning, witnesses said, he threw her partial skeleton into the Biloxi River.
Clark noted those involved in the murder and cover-up were high on methamphetamine before and after Broadus died.
Judges were dealing with a “meth epidemic” when he joined the bench in 2005, Clark said. A state law that made one of the ingredients available only by prescription drastically reduced the number of meth labs in Harrison County, he said.
“The problem is they get it from Mexico already cooked,” Clark said. “ . . . That’s the fight we have now.”
Clark had no leeway with the sentence. Life in prison was the only option for first-degree murder by a habitual offender. Peterman previously was convicted and served prison time for a home burglary in Gulfport, a burglary in Biloxi and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Broadus’ family speaks
Broadus’ relatives sat through the trial and sentencing. Her mother was not there. She died of a broken heart after the murder, said Beverly Broadus Bennett, Tena Broadus’ aunt. Bennett also related the story of what Broadus’ young son said while she was missing.
Franchelle Daniels Brown, the victim assistance coordinator in District Attorney Joel Smith’s office, read Bennett’s statement in court before the sentencing.
Lindsay Allen, who was Broadus’ sister-in-law, stood in court to read her statement. She was 13 when she met Broadus, who was 11 at the time. Allen thought of the younger girl as a sister.
“She was a good mother, a good person and a good friend,” Allen said. “She had her problems, but she never lost her humanity. All I have left of my sister are some ashes and memories. What they did to her was heinous, cruel and unnecessary.
“ . . . They didn’t just kill her. They defiled her,” Allen added.
Broadus stood only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed around 100 pounds. In the months after her murder, her family members said, they imagined the terror she must have experienced before, as her aunt said, her remains were burned and thrown, piece by piece, into the river.
Bennett said, “She was our shining light.”