A Union County jury convicted an Indian Trail man Thursday on felony child abuse charges for ramming his 3-year-old stepdaughter’s head through a wall in a fit of rage.
Jurors deliberated less than six hours before convicting Joshua Houser of felony child abuse/inflicting serious bodily harm.
The case sparked widespread attention, and “Kilah’s Law” legislation named for the victim boosted penalties in North Carolina for severe child abuse cases.
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Kilah Davenport suffered a fractured skull and damage to 90 percent of her brain following the May 2012 abuse. She almost died, and remains severely impaired.
Her grandmother, Leslie Davenport, addressed Houser shortly before sentencing, as part of the family telling the court about the crime’s impact.
“Kilah is now imprisoned in her body because of this cowardly act,” she said. “You shattered her innocence.”
And Davenport criticized Houser for continuing to insist he was innocent, saying that at the end of his life, “when you are kneeling before God, one thing is for certain: You will not be able to lie anymore.”
Houser was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Tanya Wallace to a minimum of 93 months and a maximum of 123 months in state prison. He also is to have no contact with Kilah or her relatives.
Houser kept his hands in his pockets and showed little emotion when the verdict was read. Several of his friends and family seated behind him started crying, then quickly left the courtroom.
Kilah sat in a stroller in the front row, swaddled in a giant Charlotte Checkers blanket. Her mother, Kirbi Davenport, gently patted her head as the verdict came down.
After finding Houser guilty, the jury was asked to consider whether aggravating factors were present in the crime, which would help determine sentencing ranges.
Jurors soon agreed with prosecutors that two such factors existed: The victim was very young and the offense was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
District Attorney Trey Robison noted that Houser was not eligible for sentencing under Kilah’s Law, since it had not been in place at the time of the offense. Had Kilah’s Law been in effect then, Houser could have been sentenced to as many as 201 months.
After Houser’s arrest, Kilah’s family was unhappy with the amount of prison time he faced.
They joined community activists and local lawmakers to push for “Kilah’s Law,” which increased sentencing terms for five child-abuse related felonies. Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law last year.
And Congress is considering a bill that directs the attorney general to issue a report within six months detailing each state’s penalties for child abuse, including whether the laws provide enhanced penalties in cases of severe child abuse. It passed the House and is in the Senate.
Seeking justice for Kilah
The jury began deliberations late Wednesday, after a week of testimony, and resumed discussions Thursday morning.
Jurors also asked to review some of the evidence, including the piece of drywall that prosecutors say Houser broke by slamming Kilah’s head into it.
On the witness stand, Houser had said he broke the wall by hitting it with his fist in frustration when a 911 operator couldn’t understand him.
He had testified that he called 911 because Kilah had fallen in their house while he was in another room. Prosecutors scoffed at that claim, and said Houser scooped up the child and smashed her head into a wall like a battering ram.
Houser had also taken the witness stand to proclaim his innocence and profess his love for Kilah. He continued to maintain his innocence after the verdict was read, said defense attorney Miles Helms, who indicated that Houser intends to file an appeal.
Helms declined to comment after the trial.
Leslie Davenport talked briefly with reporters after the verdict and said she was pleased justice was served. She thanked prosecutors and the jury.
Citing Kilah’s Law, she added, “Now folks who do this to children will be sentenced to a lot more time.”
Kirbi Davenport agreed with her mother. She also said she was looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life as she continues to care for Kilah.
“Kilah has gotten her justice,” Kirbi Davenport said. “That’s all that matters.”
At one point Thursday, Leslie Davenport and Kilah rode on an elevator when a woman leaned over to say she had been praying for the child.
Leslie Davenport smiled and thanked her. They can use all the prayers they can get, she said.