At a news conference Friday morning at New Hope United Methodist Church, Kilah Davenport sat in a black and pink wheelchair while her family urged support for a proposed law named after her that would increase prison time for child abusers.
Kilah was 3 years old on March 16, when authorities in Union County say her stepfather, Joshua Houser, beat her, leaving her with a broken collarbone, a fractured skull, a brain injury and various bruises on her body. Houser has been charged with felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury and is in Union County Jail with bond set at $1 million.
Kilah is 4 now and is learning to walk, eat and talk again, her family says. Doctors had told her family that Kilah might die or be in a vegetative state.
A trial date hasn’t been set, but her family says Houser, if convicted, could get as little as three years and eight months in prison. The maximum he could get is 15 years. Her family and a statewide group called The Justice for All Coalition are pushing to change that by getting state legislators to pass Kilah’s Law, which would increase the penalties for child abuse convictions.
“No child deserves this,” said Kilah’s grandmother, Leslie Davenport, during the news conference. “And that’s why we began this fight to change the law and call it Kilah’s Law…We don’t want another child to have to go through this.”
Felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury is classified as a Class C felony. Jeff Gerber, the founder of The Justice for All Coalition, said Kilah’s Law would reclassify that charge as a Class B2 felony and would raise the potential penalty to a minimum of 25 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Second-degree murder, murder of an unborn child and various offenses related to death or serious injury caused by a car crash are classified as B2 felonies. The penalties would not change for those charges under the proposed legislation.
Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill said he supports increased penalties for convicted child abusers. He said prosecutors often have to be creative in charging people so that they can get more punishment when convicted.
O’Neill cited the recent case of Jacob Minton, who pleaded guilty to 11 counts of attempted first-degree murder in the abuse of his girlfriend’s then-2-year-old daughter at Brenner’s Children Hospital. Minton was sentenced to 26 years and one month to 33 years in prison.
“It is refreshing to see a group like The Justice for All Coalition advocating for the same increase (in punishment) that DAs are looking for,” O’Neill said.
The news conference Friday also featured the case of Ashton Cartrette, a 6-year-old Winston-Salem boy. Marcus Bradley Holt, who was a friend of the boy’s mother and had babysat the boy, was acquitted by a Forsyth County jury in 2010 of felony child abuse inflicting serious injury. Mitzi Cartrette, the boy’s grandmother, said during the news conference the new law might help prevent physical abuse of other children.
Gerber said his group has traveled North Carolina. Twenty-six local governments have passed resolutions supporting Kilah’s Law. He said he plans to ask the Winston-Salem City Council and the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners to pass a similar resolution.
State Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, said he plans to introduce Kilah’s Law when the N.C. General Assembly convenes Jan. 30.
“If you hit a kid square in the face or you cause a kid damage, I think you need more than a slap on the wrist,” Horn said. “I think we need to kick these penalties up at every phase of the sentencing structure.”