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Child abuse law passes legislature

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

A law that would increase the punishment for child abusers who severely injure children unanimously passed the N.C. Senate on Wednesday and could get the governor’s signature before the end of the month.

The bill would increase the sentences for five child abuse-related felonies. For the worst cases of abuse, offenders now face a maximum of 15 years in prison. The proposed new law would increase the maximum penalty to nearly 33 years.

The measure, dubbed “Kilah’s Law,” is named for Kilah Davenport, who was 3 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 while awaiting trial. Houser’s potential sentence would not be affected by any new legislation.

At first, doctors didn’t know whether Kilah would live 24 hours. She survived, but will likely have the mind of a 3-year-old for the rest of her life. Earlier this week, Kilah had surgery to place a shunt in her head to relieve pressure that was causing painful headaches.

“It’s been a really good day,” Kilah’s mother, Kirbi Davenport, said Wednesday. “It’s really nice to know that we’re not the only people who wanted this so bad.”

Rep. Craig Horn, the bill’s sponsor, said Gov. Pat McCrory is a supporter of the bill, and could sign it before the end of April.

Every time the bill has come up for a vote – in front of committees and full legislative bodies – it has passed unanimously, Horn said.

“The message is when it comes to our kids in North Carolina, there are no Republicans and Democrats,” Horn said. “There is no House and Senate. It’s the people in North Carolina speaking very clearly … that we’re not going to sit still for these crimes against those least able to defend themselves – our children.”

Horn hopes the governor will sign the bill in Union County, so Kilah’s family can easily attend.

Another bill named for Kilah is making its way through the U.S. House. Last month, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte, announced federal legislation aimed at increasing penalties for people convicted of serious cases of child abuse.

The federal legislation would strip federal money for child abuse prevention programs from states that don’t increase the mandatory minimum sentence for abuse that causes serious bodily injury to children, or results in long-term or permanent damage.

The legislation calls for a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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