A local teen charged two years ago with assaulting a teacher at Lincoln High School was back in court Monday as his attorney went toe-to-toe with prosecutors on an appropriate sentence.
Donavon M. Davis, now 18, was arrested in May of 2016 on a charge of aggravated battery, a Level 3 Felony, after he attacked special education teacher Cheryl Clemons.
He spent 14 days in jail before being released on bond.
He's spent the last 920 days on a kind of house arrest with the use of a GPS monitoring device that allows him limited— but some — mobility.
During a nearly two-hour sentencing hearing in Superior Court 1 — the outcome of which won't be announced by Judge Gara Lee until next week — Davis' attorney, Jeff Neal, HartBell LLC, was thorough in establishing the extent of Davis' disabilities, both physical and developmental.
Davis was born deaf and used a certified sign language interpreter during Monday's hearing. Cochlear Implants do, however, afford him some limited speaking abilities.
His grandmother and guardian, Melody Davis, indicated during her testimony, too, that Davis suffers developmental disabilities as well, specifically in terms of verbal comprehension and memory.
His IQ, according to a lengthy report generated for the court by the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education in Indianapolis, is 70, and while a freshman at Lincoln back in 2016, the year of the attack, he held something closer to a first-grade level of intelligence, Neal said.
Davis himself testified during the hearing. Dressed in a bright blue dress shirt, jeans and black and white Converse-style tennis shoes, he and said he was “very sorry” for what he did to Clemons more than two years ago, even turning to say so specifically to some of her friends and family sitting in the back of the courtroom.
But when asked about a motive for the attack by county prosecutor Dirk Carnahan, Davis responded simply and repeatedly, “I don't know.”
And it was on that Carnahan primarily hung his reason in asking for a 9-year sentence — six years to spend in the state Department of Corrections and three suspended to house arrest.
Without a full understanding of why the assault happened in the first place, Carnahan said, it's impossible to argue that it won't happen again.
“Nothing is different now from when he committed the attack,” Carnahan said matter-of-factly. “So it's just as likely to happen again.”
Neal, however, pointed repeatedly to Davis' good behavior while on house arrest these last 920 days. He has no criminal history nor any previous incidents of violent outbursts at school either.
Davis has also, Neal said, sought the help of private tutors to continue his education — as he is barred from receiving formal instruction at any county school — and is seeking regular therapy for anxiety and depression.
Neal requested that the judge grant Davis credit for time served and that any additional sentence be suspended to probation and house arrest on the condition that he continue mental health counseling.
The maximum sentence for a Level 3 felony is 16 years.
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Davis attacked Clemens after school had dismissed on May 11, 2016.
According to court testimony, he pushed her to the floor and kicked her repeatedly in the head. He also hit her about the head and shoulders several times with a chair and strangled her, both by placing his hands around her neck and by covering her nose and mouth with his hands.
He also, according to court testimony, told her he was going to kill her.
He stole her wedding rings, too, but an initial charge of armed robbery was later dismissed in exchange for Davis entering a guilty plea for the lesser, Level 3 Felony aggravated battery charge.
He was also charged as an adult.
Candice Swain, a victim's advocate for the county prosecutor's office, read a lengthy statement in court from Clemons, who was advised, according to the statement, by her doctors not to attend Monday's hearing.
Clemons, who now lives outside Knox County, suffered multiple brain bleeds as result of her attack and will never teach again, she wrote. She has also suffered permanent vision and memory loss, regular vertigo and is under treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Her “entire being changed” following the attack, she wrote, and she can no longer live on her own.
Clemons also wrote that she was just as surprised as anyone else at the attack that day. She said she had worked with Davis at the start of the every school day to test his Cochlear Implants before class, but “5 minutes every morning” was the extent of their relationship.
If she'd have listed the students capable of such violence, she wrote, Davis “wouldn't have even been considered.”
“So we can't tell you the reason behind this violent act,” Carnahan again argued to the court, “because it doesn't exist.”
Carnahan also argued the existence of other, aggravating factors, per state statute, for the more lengthy sentence, specifically in that the attack took place at a school and that the victim was in a position of providing daily care to Davis.
Neal argued that — clear motive or not — Davis had shown his willingness to submit to the requirements of house arrest. He had essentially “auditioned” successfully for a probationary sentence in that he's done “incredibly well” with the GPS monitoring unit over the last 920 days.
Melody Davis, the grandmother, also testified that despite the inevitable family disputes over the last two years, Davis hasn't shown any physical aggression toward her or anyone else.
Davis himself testified in court that he longs to get some kind of job “where he can help people” even though he knows it will be difficult given his disabilities and, soon, a felony conviction on his record.
Neal challenged that the state had yet to offer “one reason why (Davis) should be locked up,” and he argued that, per his developmental and hearing disabilities, Davis couldn't adequately express either his thoughts or his emotions concerning the attack.
“He's proven that he won't bother anybody,” Neal said, citing his good behavior on house arrest and a pre-sentencing investigation done by state mental health officials saying he was of “low risk” to commit another, similar crime.
Lee took the matter under advisement, and the court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.