A Westminster woman who pleaded to first-degree child abuse resulting in the death of her infant daughter was sentenced Monday in Carroll County Circuit Court to 40 years, with all but 20 years of the sentence suspended.
Ashley Love Davis, 24, took an Alford plea to one count of first-degree child abuse resulting in death during a plea hearing July 12 regarding the death of her daughter, Sophia Love Davis, in January 2016.
After completion of jail time, Davis was ordered to serve five years probation, and not to have contact with anyone under the age of 16. She will be credited with time already served.
In taking an Alford plea, Davis did not admit guilt, but agreed that a guilty finding would likely be reached through a trial.
“This is a tragedy of epic proportions,” said Judge Barry Hughes on Monday. He described it as a textbook case where the abuse of one generation carried on to the next.
None would contest that Davis was dealt a lousy hand of cards in life, he said, but as an adult and especially a mother, it was her responsibility to act in a way to protect her children.
In previously rejecting help from the Department of Social Services, she had also fallen down on her responsibility, Hughes said.
By not disclosing the way in which Sophia Davis was injured — resulting in brain trauma that resembled that of an infant in a car crash, according to a pediatric trauma specialist — Davis’ conduct “falls short of true remorse,” Hughes said.
Davis’ attorney William Welch said Davis was still learning to care for herself and was not equipped or prepared to care for anyone else.
Davis underwent a surgical procedure so that she will not be able to conceive any more children. She will not likely regain custody of her other children, after her release from prison.
Davis described the day of her daughter’s death as the worst day of her life and misses Sophia every day, Welch said. She wishes she could have saved her daughter and will have to live with that failure for the rest of her life no matter what sentence she is given, he said prior to Davis’ sentence being handed down.
Davis’ sister spoke on her behalf during the hearing and asked Hughes to “recognize the good and the hope that lies within Ashley.”
She said that Sophia brought joy into the lives of many people who met her. Davis made stupid decisions, but she did not want her to be painted as “a horrible person.”
Two mentors who worked with Davis during her time at the Carroll County Detention Center said she had exhibited spiritual growth and was beginning to make better choices. They hoped she would be able to continue with programs and counseling.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Pamer asked the court to remember that the victim in the case was not Ashley Davis, but Sophia Davis. She said that although Davis said she wished she could have saved Sophia, there was evidence that she had more than one chance to do so and did not take it.
By choosing not to seek help and hiding what was happening, she chose to protect herself rather than her 7-week-old daughter, prosecutors argued.
Sophia’s paternal grandmother, Tracy Zaccarelli, gave a victim impact statement, and became emotional when she described arriving at the hospital to see the infant connected to tubes and wires. She said that if Davis had reached out to her, she would have taken Sophia in.
Davis briefly addressed the court on her own behalf. She said she had chosen to let people into her life that she shouldn't have and that she was starting to learn emotional coping skills.
“I think about her all the time,” she said of Sophia.
According to a statement of facts read by Pamer at the July plea hearing, Sophia Davis was born prematurely and, as a result, a nurse was assigned to check on her and her mother regularly after the two were discharged from the hospital on Dec. 5, 2015. According to the statement, on Dec. 31, 2015, during the nurse’s last visit before the infant’s death, the nurse reported the infant to be in good health.
Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 4, 2016, others who interacted with the infant reported that the baby was displaying unusual symptoms including eyes rolling back in her head; vomiting, which was attributed to a change in formula; and lying limply, not responding to touch.
The parties testified to urging Davis to seek medical attention for the infant, but there is no record of her doing so until Jan. 4, 2016, when she called 911 and reported that the infant was vomiting, tensing up, and appeared cross-eyed.
Earlier in the day, the assigned nurse made contact with Davis to remind her of an appointment scheduled for the next day. The nurse testified that Davis did not mention any irregularity with the child except for a strong smell to her urine. Davis said the baby’s eating seemed to be improving.
The infant was taken to Carroll Hospital and later transferred to Johns Hopkins. An MRI found that head trauma had resulted in bleeding in the brain.
Sophia Davis was taken off life support on Jan. 7, 2016.
Authorities from the Child Protection Team of the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Emergency Department told investigators that the child’s condition was suggestive of abuse. The extent of the injury to the brain was equal to if the baby had been in a car accident, Director Mitchell Goldstein told investigators.
Prosecutors presented the theory that Davis had shaken the child out of frustration following an argument with boyfriend Tyler Tennant, and not with the intent to kill her. They argued that the sum of all actions and inactions was sufficient to meet the requirements for the first-degree child abuse charge.
On July 25, Tennant pleaded guilty to one count of accessory, and was sentenced to five years with all but 323 days of time served suspended and placed on five years probation.
In considering the sentence for Davis, Hughes said that sentencing Davis would not serve penal objectives of preventing further conduct by the individual or discouraging similar conduct by others. But it was appropriate to enforce a sentence that would serve as punishment for failure to protect the life of a child.