Nine months after authorities say a Union County toddler was severely beaten by her stepfather, a new bill was filed in the state legislature Wednesday that could more than double sentences for some child abusers.
Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican from Weddington, said the bill would increase the punishments for five child abuse-related felonies. For the worst cases of abuse, an offender currently could serve a maximum of 15 years in prison. Under the bill, that would rise to a maximum of nearly 33 years.
The bill also contains provisions that would let authorities better track the crimes.
The measure, dubbed Kilahs Law, was inspired by the case of Kilah Davenport. She was 3 years old last May when she was hospitalized with severe brain damage and a fractured skull. Authorities say she was beaten by her stepfather, Joshua Houser, who remains in jail on $1 million bond as he awaits trial.
Kilah survived, but doctors say shell likely have the mind of a 3-year-old for the rest of her life. The 25-pound girl has had five surgeries in the last five months. She has physical therapy visits twice a week, and takes three drugs a day.
It made me feel amazing that my little girl is one step closer to hopefully saving a couple lives, Kirby Davenport said. I am hearing that this is wanted. This is begged for. Everyone is craving Kilahs Law across the state.
Horn told the Observer on Wednesday that he had been following Kilahs case and was approached by people in the community to consider legislation to address cases of severe child abuse.
Among the groups pushing for action is The Justice for All Coalition, a nonprofit that has successfully pushed for other state child protection laws.
Horn said officials are hoping for a law that would deal a little more appropriately with the heinous crime of child abuse where terrible damage is caused and use the additional punishment hopefully as a deterrent to future abuse.
He said the bill has bipartisan support from legislators across the state. It is expected to get a first reading on the House floor as early as Thursday, then will likely be referred to a chamber committee. Its unclear how many children in the state are assaulted as badly as Kilah was. In the last fiscal year, 131,379 children across the state were referred to county social services agencies for possible abuse and neglect, according to Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. During the same period in Mecklenburg, 13,972 children were referred.
Kilahs family celebrates small triumphs: eating pureed food, and being able to say Mama again.
But Kilah missed her best friends fourth birthday party. Her mother worried shed be saddened by the sight of her friends playing as she sat immobile in her wheelchair.
Davenport said she hopes future offenders gain a better sense of what victims like Kilah have lost.
Right now Im sitting out on the front porch, she said. My Kilah would be right here bouncing on me, saying Mama push me on the swing. Lets throw the ball. Can I let the dogs out? But I sit here and theres nothing. Shes not beside me.