A 33-year-old Columbia man was convicted of second-degree murder yesterday in the beating death of his 2-year-old stepson, a crime that the prosecutor said amounted to "sheer, unadulterated violence."
A jury in Howard County Circuit Court deliberated four hours before returning verdicts in which they also found Marcus D. Owens guilty of child abuse and assault. Owens was the only adult at home with Kevonte Davis last summer during the time medical experts said the child's fatal injuries would have been inflicted.
Jurors rejected a defense argument that something other than Owens' fists and feet - perhaps a rambunctious older brother - caused the injuries that led to Kevonte's death. Instead, they found that Owens acted with an "extreme disregard for human life."
"I am just glad justice was served," Kevonte's mother, Kenesha Davis, said after the verdict.
Earlier in the day, Davis, who has two other sons, including one with Owens, said the death of the friendly, smiling boy she called "Keeve" has turned her life upside down.
"It's just a whole lot for me to go through," she said.
Owens' friends and family said the accusations did not fit the Marcus Owens they know, a quiet man who was "always there" whenever they needed something.
"I've known Marcus for 25 years. ... He don't even discipline his own children," said friend John McCray. "To do something to children? Never."
Owens could be sentenced to a maximum of 60 years in prison - 30 for murder and 30 for child abuse - at his Oct. 1 sentencing by Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure.
Over three days of testimony, prosecutors, who had no adult witness to the beating, relied on circumstantial evidence to prove their case. Owens was the only person big and strong enough to punch or kick Kevonte hard enough to leave the boy with a lacerated liver, bleeding lungs and five broken ribs, they said.
Although Kevonte's older brother, Daquan, now 5, was also at the family's home in the 5200 block of Brook Way in Columbia on July 30, a doctor and a state medical examiner testified that the younger boy's injuries were like those seen in serious car crashes or falls from tall buildings.
The injuries were so severe that without speedy medical treatment, the boy could have survived a maximum of six hours after they were inflicted, Dr. Zabiullah Ali, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, testified Wednesday.
"Not from a child who trips. Not from a child who falls. Not from a sibling two years older," Assistant State's Attorney Mary Murphy told jurors in her closing argument. "Was this an accident? Absolutely not. ... The only person who could have inflicted the injuries who had the size, who had the stature, is the defendant."
But Owens, testifying yesterday in his defense, insisted that he never hit or kicked his stepson and said he had no idea what caused the boy's injuries. He described a day that started early when he got up before 5 a.m. to go to a new job, only to be told to go home and return the next day.
With his wife of five days at work, Owens testified, he fed his son and two stepsons, changed diapers, watched television and napped.
He realized something was wrong with Kevonte when he tried to wake the boy late in the afternoon so the family could pick up Davis at work, he said.
Kevonte, who had suffered from diarrhea earlier in the day, had trouble waking up, he said. He bundled the boys into the family car and went to get Davis. From there, they headed to Howard County General Hospital, where doctors said they tried in vain to save a child who was already past saving.
"I wish I could tell you what happened to Kevonte Davis, but I cannot," Deputy Public Defender Louis P. Willemin told jurors. "Marcus Owens does not know. We don't know. And you don't know."