Nearly 200 hundred people huddled under an awning outside a Mint Hill restaurant Sunday night to remember Kilah Davenport, a child-abuse victim who died last week and whose beating sparked legislative changes.
Mourners, including U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., sang “Amazing Grace,” prayed and lit candles at the gathering.
“It is solace,” Leslie Davenport, Kilah’s grandmother, said of the gathering. “Kilah’s memory is going to live on forever. We’re not going to stop fighting until all the child-abuse laws are much stronger.”
Four-year-old 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.
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Congress is considering pressuring states to increase their punishments for the worst kinds of 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.
Pittenger, the U.S. representative who hails from Charlotte and who authored the bill, said he talked with Senate Majority leader Harry Reid on Friday about the legislation, dubbed the “Kilah Davenport Child Protection Act.” Reid expressed his support for the bill, Pittenger said Sunday.
Investigators are awaiting the results of an autopsy, but family members said the girl’s death was caused by complications from a May 2012 assault by her stepfather, Joshua Houser. The attack fractured her skull and left her permanently brain-damaged, a family friend said.
Jurors deliberated less than six hours in February before convicting Houser of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily harm.
He was sentenced to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of 10 years in prison. The Union County District Attorney’s office is trying to determine whether Houser should be charged with a more serious crime.
Kilah’s family has requested that, in lieu of flower arrangements, mourners send donations to the Kilah Davenport Foundation, which seeks to end child abuse. Mailed donations should be sent to Kilah Davenport Foundation, P.O. Box 691147, Charlotte, NC 28227.