Mistrial declared in child abuse case
BY PORTSIA SMITH
A Caroline County Circuit Court judge declared a mistrial today in a case against a former sheriff’s deputy convicted by a jury of child abuse.
Clyde C. Davenport, 51, a Caroline sheriff’s deputy for nine years and briefly a candidate for sheriff in 1997, was accused of physically abusing and sexually molesting a boy over a six-year period starting in 1998.
After an emotional three-day trial in September, a jury of five men and seven women found him guilty of malicious wounding and child abuse resulting in serious injury.
The jury recommended that Davenport serve the maximum of 30 years in prison and pay a $100,000 fine. He had not been formally sentenced yet by Judge Joseph Ellis, who presided at the trial.
Today, Defense Attorney John LaFratta argued that some statements made by Commonwealth Attorney Tony Spencer about Davenport being a porn dealer and racist during the trial were prejudicial against his client.
Spencer withdrew the comments right after he said them, and the judge asked the jury to disregard them.
“How is a jury going to hear those comments and forget about it?” LaFratta asked Judge Ellis today. “Hearing something like that would sway a reasonable person so much that they can’t overlook it and give a fair trial.”
LaFratta had filed motions prior to the start of the trial to have any evidence of pornographic video sales excluded from the trial. The judge denied the motion saying he didn’t know what the context was since the trial had not started.
“Mr. Davenport is facing 30 years in the penitentiary. To say ‘I forgot’ or ‘I made a mistake’ is not good enough. The stakes are too high,” LaFratta said.
Spencer argued that today was too late to ask for a mistrial when the case was over in September.
“When you left on September 24, you left thinking he had a fair trial and nothing has changed since then,” he told the judge. “This was not a clean trial, your Honor, but it was a fair one.”
Spencer also argued that his comments were relevant because Davenport’s employment history with the military and in law enforcement had been introduced and because he had been described by a witness as a “decent man.”
Judge Ellis reminded LaFratta and Spencer that he was at the trial and saw the passion both had for their positions on the case.
“Both counsel in this case did and said things that I think both of them would find regrettable,” Ellis said. “And I say that as a compliment and a criticism. You do your jobs well and I think you got carried away.”
He said from the standpoint of being at the trail and seeing it as it happened, he would agree with Spencer that it was a fair trial. But from the standpoint of the records and reading the transcript, he was compelled to declare a mistrial.
“Mr. Davenport was given a long time in jail and I have to feel in my heart that he had a fair trial,” Ellis said. “Because I intend to sleep tonight and the next night and the next night and the next night … being confident that he received exactly what you said he should receive—a fair trial.”
Davenport, who has been in the custody of the medical unit of the Pamunkey Regional Jail since September, was given a $20,000 secured bond and can be released with the conditions that he have no contact with the victim and is barred from the Lake Land’Or community in Ladysmith.
Davenport, who entered the courtroom walking with two arm brace crutches, is in poor health and will be living with his sister in King William County until the case goes back to court, LaFratta said.
A hearing to determine what happens next is set for May 18 at 10 a.m. Spencer said that he is prepared to try the case again.
The charges against Davenport stem from a Virginia State Police investigation after a 2008 complaint from the Department of Social Services. The abuse is alleged to have started in December 1998, when the boy was 8 years old.
The victim, now 20, his mother and other witnesses said they called police about the abuse, but said they believed because of Davenport’s relationship with the local Sheriff’s Office, nothing would ever come of it.
Davenport was hired as a deputy in December 1988 by then-Sheriff O.J. Moore and left the force in August 1997, when Homer Johnson was sheriff. He worked as a school resource officer and as a D.A.R.E. officer.
Davenport testified that he resigned in 1997 so that he could run for sheriff that year. However, he dropped out of the campaign.
Here’s a related story: Former deputy found guilty