A 54-year-old man accused of fatally strangling his wife and daughter and then posting a picture of their dead bodies on Facebook has rejected a plea agreement that would have allowed him to avoid a trial.
Instead, Elhadji Seydou Diop entered pleas of not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder during a hearing Thursday in a Wake County courtroom.
Diop’s unexpected plea stunned the family and friends of Aminata Drame, 40, and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Fatim Diop. They were killed in their west Raleigh townhouse on April 5, 2016.
The first three rows of the courtroom were filled with the victims’ supporters, including Drame’s grandmother and sister. They filed out of the courtroom after the hearing and declined to comment on the case.
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Diop had agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, Kristen Fetter, a Wake County prosecutor, said in court Thursday morning. Diop would have spent between 30 and 38 years in prison under the plea bargain, Fetter said.
Before rejecting the deal, Diop’s court-appointed attorney, Charles Caldwell of Raleigh, said he “had spoken with Mr. Diop and he has had a change of heart.”
The case is now scheduled for Superior Court on March 19. If Diop is convicted of first-degree murder, he could face the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens warned Diop about the consequences of rejecting the plea deal.
“If he leaves the courtroom today without accepting the plea it will not be re-tendered,” Stephens said. “Mr. Caldwell, does your client understand that?”
An autopsy report made public in July 2016 said medical examiners could not determine whether Diop had strangled his daughter. It’s possible, the report said, that she was smothered when her fighting parents landed on top of her hours before she and her mother were found dead at their home at 5943 Farm Gate Road.
“According to information received, Fatim Diop, a 2-year-old girl, was present during a physical altercation between two adults when they landed on top of her on 4/5/2016 around noon,” the report stated. “Afterward, she was reportedly not breathing, but Emergency Medical Services were not called.”
Police officers went to the family’s home that day after Diop’s niece, who lives in Dakar, Senegal, saw photos of the dead bodies of Drame and Fatim that Diop had apparently posted on his Facebook page.
“Look what god did 2. Me.,” investigators believe Diop posted at 2:41 p.m. that day. “A beautiful family. all gone.”
According to the Senegalese online newspaper DakarFLASH.com, Diop had also written on his Facebook page, “They just died, and I will be next. Who will stop me?”
Police believe Diop had tried to kill himself after he killed his wife and daughter.
It appeared that Diop had positioned his wife and daughter before taking the pictures. They were lying face up, with Fatim resting on her mother’s right arm and her head tilted up into her mother’s face.
After seeing the photos, Diop’s niece called her husband, who lives in New York City, according to a 911 recording made public shortly after the victims were found.
The husband called 911 in New York, and a dispatcher there contacted Wake County’s 911 center.
Neighbors in the townhouse complex on Farm Gate Road said the couple had been living in the neighborhood for about two months. DakarFLASH.com reported that Drame had found work at a post office and was looking forward to enrolling in school.
On Thursday, Stephens ordered Diop back in custody at Central Prison on Western Boulevard. He was first taken to the facility last year for safekeeping after he attempted to take his own life, a spokesman at the Wake County jail reported.
Thomasi McDonald: 919-829-4533, @thomcdonald