HOUSTON – An additional charge was filed Monday against Derion Vence in connection with the death of Maleah Davis.
Vence, 27, has been held in jail since May 11, when he was arrested on a tampering with evidence charge related to the 4-year-old girl’s corpse.
Vence, who has been described by family members as Maleah’s stepfather, has also been charged with injury to a child, "intentionally and knowingly causing serious bodily injury" to Davis.
The charge is a first-degree felony, which carries the same penalty as murder, five to 99 years in prison.
"When all is said and done, if a jury finds this defendant guilty of injury to a child, the penalty range is the same as it would be had a jury convicted him of murder, five to 99 years to life in a penitentiary," KPRC legal analyst Brian Wice said.
Vence reported Maleah missing May 4. According to investigators, Vence said he, Maleah and her younger brother were attacked the day before when he stopped to check a damaged tire. He said he was knocked out during the attack and when he regained consciousness, Maleah and the family’s car were gone.
Maleah’s body was found May 31 in Arkansas. Community activist Quanell X said Vence confessed to him that Maleah’s death was the result of an accident and that he dumped her body in Arkansas.
Investigators said that Maleah died by homicidal violence.
If prosecutors had charged Vence with murder, they would have had to convince a jury that he knowingly and intentionally caused Maleah's death. Instead, with the injury to a child charge, prosecutors will have to convince a jury that Vence knowingly and intentionally caused Davis serious bodily injury.
"It basically gives the state a break," Wice said of the new charge, "in terms of the ... quality of the evidence they would have to submit to a Harris County jury to get what they believe will be a life sentence."
According to court documents, Vence is accused of knocking Maleah to the floor, causing her to suffer a blunt trauma injury and then failing to provide Maleah with proper medical care for the injury.
According to court documents, prosecutors will argue that Davis knowingly and intentionally caused Davis serious bodily injury in five ways: by striking her with his hand, with a blunt object, by causing her to strike the floor, by causing her to strike a blunt object, and by failing to provide proper medical care to her.
If prosecutors convince the jury of any one of those ways beyond a reasonable doubt, Vence will face anywhere five to 99 years to life in prison, the same penalty range as murder, Wice said.
Medical examiners said they will not release Maleah's autopsy results until the investigation is over.
Vence's attorney had no comment on the new charge filed Monday.
The Harris County District Attorney's Office released a statement:
Derion Vence was charged Monday with a first-degree felony, punishable by up to life in prison, in the death of four-year-old Maleah Davis, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Monday.
The charge of intentionally causing serious bodily injury to a child comes after Vence, 27, was previously charged with the crime of tampering with a corpse.
Maleah’s remains were recovered in Arkansas and brought back to Houston, where the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences completed an autopsy, recently finalized and forwarded to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
After a review of all of the evidence, including the autopsy results, prosecutors determined there was sufficient evidence to charge Vence with intentionally and knowingly causing seriously bodily injury to a child younger than 15 years of age.
The case was investigated by Houston Police.
The first-degree felony filed Monday carries a penalty of five to 99 years or life in prison.
Vence has previously been charged in connection with Maleah’s death with tampering with a corpse, a second-degree felony that carries a penalty of two to 20 years in prison. That charge remains in place.