Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 20, 2014

Case of baby's death appears headed for trial

By Michael R. Moser
Editor

CROSSVILLE — Barring a last minute surprise by state prosecutors or a defense attorney, the death of an infant Cumberland County child appears headed for a jury with the case coming down to which side's expert medical witnesses a jury is going to believe.

William Allen Davenport was indicted by the Cumberland County Grand Jury in September 2011 on charges of felony murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of Destiny Davenport, a child who was only seven weeks old when she died.

She died at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga where she had been flown from Cumberland Medical Center after having been rushed there by ambulance.

About the only thing both sides agree on is that the case will center on medical records and interpretations of medical findings by experts who will be called to testify.

In a recent motion hearing, court-appointed defense attorney Douglas Dennis tried to pin down state prosecutors on key issues relating to evidence the state planned to introduce relating to the child's death.

The state is expected to put before jurors proof of a "shaken baby" cause of death and is expected to call medical personnel who treated the baby as well as a leading expert on shaken baby deaths.

Dennis countered that the baby lived for three days and that the child did not have any bruises or any evidence of obvious trauma on its body. Dennis is expected to push a defense of his client being a loving and caring guardian of the child and that the child suffered from a host of ailments including some caused by a traumatic birth.

"We need to know what mechanism for cause of death the state is going to pursue," Dennis argued, saying he needed time to prepare a defense for shaken baby syndrome or for death caused by impact injury.

He attacked a state medical examiner's findings, saying it took over seven months for the autopsy to be completed and that the state's assistant medical examiner sent her findings to another medical examiner for review before issuing a formal report.

Dennis also argued that there was a lot of injury caused to the baby during the process to save the child's life.

"A specific cause ... that we do not have," Dennis argued.

"The state has been as specific as we can be," Knight countered. "The cause of death in the autopsy was massive internal injuries ... blood in the spinal column, behind the eyes ... impact injury does not require outside trauma ... we feel it is up to the judge and the jury to decide all the facts."

Dennis again argued that the baby suffered from a "brain weave" that caused the injuries being cited by the state, but Criminal Court Judge Leon Burns agreed that the issue was for a jury to decide and declined to pin the state down on an exact cause as requested by Dennis.

"If there is a weakness, the state will have to deal with that and you will be able to exploit that weakness," Burns said.

Dennis also attempted to block from the jury medical records concerning the defendant's injuries that resulted in a workman's compensation lawsuit, and also the pain medication he was prescribed and taking during the time period when the child died.

Assistant District Attorney Caroline Knight countered that the defendant's state of mind could become an issue if the defendant testifies, and it was up to the jury to determine whether pain killers led to impairment and were somehow key to what happened.

In his final argument, Dennis again pushed forward the idea that it took a state medical examiner seven months to come up with a conclusion as to manner and cause of death. He expressed concerns that the final decision was influenced by investigators in the case and not by medical facts found during the autopsy.

Burns disagreed and moved the case forward toward a trial date, but did issue a cautionary comment that he would not want to be put in the position of having to decide on whether to issue a directive verdict after the jury heard the state's case.

It is anticipated it will take two to three days to present evidence in the case, and a trial date was set for July 28. Attorneys for both sides are expected to return to court on May 16 to give Burns a status report on their progress toward getting ready for trial.