At 6 p.m. Thursday William Allen Davenport walked out of the Cumberland County Justice Center a free man for the first time in five years. The legal cloud of the death of his infant child hanging over him was removed.
A jury of seven men and five women deliberated just under an hour and a half before returning not guilty verdicts to first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the November 2010 death of Davenport’s seven-week old daughter, Destiny.
The jury also rejected finding Davenport guilty of three lesser offenses to the two indicted charges.
There were dozens of exhibits — photos, reports and medical records — entered into evidence during the three-day trial, with the state introducing testimony from two doctors who said the cause of death was inflicted head trauma and the manner of death to be homicide.
Cookeville defense attorney Doug Dennis countered on the last day of testimony with his own expert witness — a Memphis medical examiner with credentials in nearly half a dozen fields, including neuro-pathology. That witness testified natural medical issues associated with what Dennis termed a very difficult pregnancy resulted in the tragic premature death of the child.
At the end of the day, the jury believed the Memphis doctor’s testimony over that of a former assistant state medical examiner and a Chattanooga doctor who treated Destiny and has treated children for some 36 years.
Assistant District Attorneys Carolyn Knight and Philip Hatch called Dr. Annamarie Church, chief children’s physician at TC Thompson Children’s Hospital at Erlanger Medical Center and former assistant state Medical Examiner Dr. Bridgett Eutiner, now medical examiner in Phoenix, AZ.
Church testified the injuries she found in scans of Destiny’s brain were consistent with abusive head trauma, or inflicted head trauma, formerly called “shaken baby” syndrome. She said the injuries are caused by rapid acceleration/deceleration of the brain going a different speed than the skull and basically crashing against the skull.
Eutiner testified with the use of slides of the brain taken during autopsy that she found both old and new bleeding in the brain, leading her to believe that injury to the child had been ongoing in the short seven weeks the baby lived.
Still, Eutiner wanted a second opinion of her findings and sent autopsy and medical records to Dr. Karen Chancellor, medical examiner for Shelby County, who disagreed with the findings of inflicted head trauma. It took almost a year, but when Eutiner released her autopsy report finding cause of death inflicted head trauma and manner of death homicide, state prosecutors presented the case to the grand jury.
With both doctors, Dennis hammered away with questions asking if the brain damage was not caused by the difficult pregnancy and problems that developed after birth.
Davenport had told investigators that he had been told that his little daughter had experienced a more rapid skull growth than normal, with sutures in the skull overlapping. The father also told investigators that the baby was having trouble keeping formula down and was constantly spitting and throwing up over the seven weeks of her life.
While the state did not call Dr. Chancellor to testify, Dennis in defending his client relied heavily on her testimony. He also called former Cumberland County paramedic Jonel Phipps to testify. Phipps said she responded to the Davenports’ Buck Creek Rd. home on Nov. 12, 2010, to a call of a child not breathing.
She found Davenport administering CPR on the child and took over those efforts. She said she quickly scanned the scene and found nothing out of place, and even had the father ride in the back of the ambulance, instructing him to open packages of equipment she needed so she did not have to stop her life-saving efforts.
She heard “wet sounds” coming from the child, indicating aspiration, and removed spitup from the child’s nose and mouth on the way to the hospital.
Dr. Roberto Baylosis was the emergency room physician who briefly treated the child while waiting for a helicopter to transport Destiny to the Chattanooga hospital. He, too, testified he removed fluid from the child’s mouth. Both Baylosis and Phipps testified they observed no external injuries to the body of the baby.
This set the stage for Dr. Chancellor to testify, giving a contrasting theory of what caused the child’s death. She told the jury that she reviewed all medical records and realized Destiny had no pulse or oxygen to the brain “for many minutes,” and that she believed the cause of death was aspiration on the formula the baby had been fed, causing lack of blood and oxygen to the brain.
She disagreed with the state medical examiner’s finding, stating that the lack of oxygen and blood supply to the brain caused by excessive swelling caused the bleeding found during the autopsy and also caused the aspirations that may have been ongoing since birth.
“I found no findings leading toward abuse,” Chancellor told the jury.
Davenport did not testify during the three day trial. Two audio statements given to the TBI were played on the first day during which Davenport’s basic story of the events leading to his daughter’s death remained consistent, with only a few minor discrepancies.
In closing remarks, Knight told the jury that Destiny’s injuries “are here to speak for her.” She claimed Davenport had been under physical and financial stress in his role as “Mr. Mom.” Davenport, who was off work due to injuries from a traffic crash, took care of the child while his wife, Toshia, worked.
“What if she had been left alone to just cry it out?” Knight asked the jury. The state theory was Davenport just snapped.
Hatch argued to the jury, “Something happened to her and that something was William Allen Davenport.” He added that investigators and prosecutors did not rush to judgment but came to the conclusion that the child died from inflicted head trauma.
“Follow the evidence, from the 911 call to the autopsy,” Hatch said.
Dennis argued that Destiny suffered from medical difficulties from pregnancy to the difficult birth and continuing during her short seven-week life. He noted that it was Davenport who repeatedly took the child to a Sparta pediatrician and to the health department during those seven weeks, trying to find a cause for the child’s rejection of her formula.
Dennis said on Nov. 12, Destiny went “for 25 minutes with no oxygen to the brain,” dooming her chances for survival. He criticized the state for relying on an autopsy report that rushed to a conclusion without having all the medical records relating to the baby.
“It is a travesty the man (Davenport) is even here,” Dennis concluded.
The jury agreed with a unanimous not guilty verdict. When the verdict was announced, Destiny’s mother weeped and hugged Dennis and those who were supporting her husband. Davenport also hugged his appointed counsel before quietly leaving the courtroom.