Governor signs Kilah’s Law

INDIAN TRAIL – Nearly one year after the severe beating that left Kilah Davenport fighting for her life, North Carolina’s elected officials have taken a strong stance against child abuse with Kilah’s Law – a state legislation requiring convicted child abusers spend at least 25 years behind bars.

The N.C. Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 70 last week after the N.C. House unanimously passed an identical bill, House Bill 75, in March. Gov. Pat McCrory officially signed the bill into law Wednesday, April 24, at the N.C. Capitol Building. The law only applies to incidents that take place after the bill was signed and won’t change the sentences of people already accused.

“I am thrilled that Kilah’s Law received unanimous support in the Senate,” N.C. Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County official who’s been one of the primary voices behind Kilah’s Law, said in a news release. “Rarely can we say that every member of the legislature agrees on a bill. But in this case, Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that we must do everything we can to protect our children.”

Under Kilah’s Law, the sentencing guidelines for those convicted of felony child abuse inflicting serious injury are raised to a Class B felony, increasing prison time to 25 years to life. Legislators and political activists hope the action will tamp down on the number of child abuse cases and save lives.

“If it saves the life of one child, it’s worth it,” said Jeff Gerber, founder of the Justice For All Coalition, who’s worked to garner support for Kilah’s Law throughout the state.

Kilah Davenport, then 3 years old, sustained a broken clavicle, fractured skull and 90 percent brain damage after she was allegedly severely beaten by her stepfather, Joshua Houser, on May 16, 2012, in Indian Trail.

Houser is currently in the Union County Jail under a $1 million bond and has been denied a bond reduction by two different judges.

When Gerber heard about the case and learned Houser could face as few as four to eight years in prison if convicted, he was infuriated and knew he had to work to change North Carolina’s “lenient” laws.

Gerber and Indian Trail Mayor Michael Alvarez discussed the idea of creating Kilah’s Law – a law ensuring convicted child abusers stay behind bars for a considerably longer amount of time – and Horn jumped on board to help design and draft a bill to introduce to North Carolina legislators.

During the latter half of 2012, Gerber, Horn and other activists traveled to dozens of municipalities and government bodies, giving presentations on Kilah’s Law and seeing these groups pass unanimous resolutions in support of the law.

House Bill 75 was introduced earlier this year and received a unanimous vote from members fairly quickly. The identical Senate Bill 70 stalled briefly in the Senate appropriations committee as some legislators were afraid the law would have a significant impact on state funds. Because the law raises the incarceration rate for convicted abusers, some Senate members wanted to wait until work on the state budget began in order to gauge the fiscal changes the law could potentially bring. But after the N.C. Department of Corrections convinced Senate members the resources were already available to handle the changes and there wouldn’t be much of a financial impact, the bill was moved out of appropriations and to the floor where it received unanimous support.

Gerber, who’s Justice For All Coalition was behind the passing of both Jessica’s Law and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act (Ethen’s Law), said there’s proof these laws deter criminals. After Jessica’s Law was passed, the number of child rape cases decreased dramatically, Gerber said.

“With child rape, the likelihood is astronomical (that) more than half of these individuals will recommit (their crime),” he said. “We felt as though Kilah’s Law should follow the same sentencing guidelines. Anyone with such rage and anger to beat up a child most definitely will commit the same crime.”

Added Alvarez, a key supporter of the bill, at Indian Trail’s council meeting Tuesday, April 23, “Great kudos to the town of Indian Trail … for taking care of one of its own.” Alvarez also thanked council members in Stallings for being the first to support a resolution about the law.

Since the time of the incident, Kilah, who turned 4 on April 3, has been making a slow but steady recovery, with her most recent accomplishment being the removal of her feeding tube.

“They told us at first she’d be totally dependent on a feeding tube,” Kibri Davenport, Kilah’s mom, said. “It hasn’t been a year and it’s already out.”

Although the Davenports know this law will not affect Houser if he’s convicted since it was approved following the alleged incident, they’re proud to be a part of something they believe will help prevent child abuse and bring due justice to perpetrators.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Davenport said. “We’ve worked hard from the beginning and met some amazing people along the journey. We’re taking it in stride; we’ve moved forward and made something negative into a positive. It’s great to say history has been made.”

Gerber and the Davenports recently began working with U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, who represents North Carolina’s ninth district and much of Union County, to push for a federal version of Kilah’s Law called the Kilah
Davenport Child Protection Act of 2013. If passed, the federal legislation would require a minimum sentence of 10 years for child abusers who inflict serious injury. States refusing to meet this requirement would lose federal funding for child abuse prevention programs.

The bill was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives last month and U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, who represents North Carolina’s sixth district, recently signed on as a primary sponsor.

“In all the years I’ve been a political activist and all the bills I’ve worked on, I’ve never seen such strong support,” Gerber said. “In a small way, this has provided justice for Kilah Davenport and her family. This law will no doubt save the lives of other children because we’re sending a strong message.”

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