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Kilah Davenport, who sparked child abuse legislation, dies at 4

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/13/19/15/1n6WYb.Em.138.jpeg|218
    JEFF SINER - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
    Kilah Davenport
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/03/13/19/15/bzt2c.Em.138.jpeg|237
    Adam Bell - abell@charlotteobserver.com
    Young Kilah Davenport arrives at the Union County courthouse in Monroe iin a stroller pushed by her grandmother Leslie Davenport , Feb. 27, 2014. Joshua Houser, 24,was on trial for abusing Kilah, his stepdaughter, so severely she nearly died during the May 2012 incident in their Indian Trail home.

Kilah Davenport, the 4-year-old whose abuse case sparked legislative changes after she suffered severe brain damage during a beating by her stepfather, died on Thursday, her family told the Observer.

Her death was caused by complications from the May 2012 assault that fractured her skull and left her permanently brain-damaged, a family friend said. Kilah would have turned 5 in three weeks.

Kilah suffered a fractured skull and damage to 90 percent of her brain following the May 2012 abuse at the hands of Joshua Houser.

Jurors deliberated less than six hours before convicting Houser last month of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily harm. Houser was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of 10 years in state prison.

If Kilah had been beaten after Kilah’s law was enacted, Houser could have been sentenced to anywhere from 25 years to life in prison.

It is unclear whether Houser faces additional charges now that Kilah has died. Union County District Attorney Trey Robinson could not be reached for comment Friday morning. A woman at his office who answered the phone would only say “We’re looking into it,” but would not elaborate and declined further comment.

Just before noon Friday, Robinson’s office released a prepared statement, saying that Kilah’s death “is in the early stages of investigation. No decision regarding any further charging of Joshua Houser can be made at this time.”

Kilah was the inspiration and namesake for a North Carolina law that increased sentencing punishments for five child abuse-related felonies. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law last year.

Congress is considering pressuring states to increase their punishments for the worst child abuse. The House has passed a bill directing the attorney general to issue a report detailing each state’s penalties for child abuse, including whether the laws provide enhanced penalties in cases of severe child abuse. It is now in the Senate.

Kilah had made previous public appearances as her family and community activists pushed for stronger child abuse penalties, including before the Union County commissioners in September 2012. Kilah and her family were present in Raleigh when McCrory signed the bill named after her into law last April.

“You couldn’t help but fall in love with Kilah Davenport,” said Jeff Gerber, who encouraged Kilah’s family to advocate for stronger child abuse laws in 2012. “She was such a beautiful, loving child – just so full of life. And she was stripped of her childhood and stripped of her life by someone with just uncontrollable outrage.”

Jurors deliberated less than six hours before convicting Houser last month of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily harm.

Houser was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of 10 years in state prison.

If Kilah had been beaten after Kilah’s law was enacted, Houser could have been sentenced to anywhere from 25 years to life in prison.

Kilah was a constant presence two weeks ago during the final two days of Houser’s trial. She sat with her mother behind prosecutors in a stroller swaddled in a Charlotte Checkers blanket.

She napped or rested quietly most of the time but occasionally uttered deep moans.

Prosecutors picked up on that when showing the jury a video of a laughing Kilah before the assault, riding a toy bike in the backyard.

“That sound of bubbly laughter, he took her voice,” Assistant District Attorney Anne Reeves told jurors. “The sound she makes now is a continued low moan. It sounds kind of like an animal’s. You don’t want to look at it. She never deserved this. No child deserves this.” Staff writer Adam Bell contributed.

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