A three day trial in Laurel Circuit Court ended with a Laurel man recommended to serve a 40-year prison sentence after a jury found him guilty of murder and tampering with physical evidence.
Joshua Tate Davenport, 40, of Florence Street in Corbin, was found guilty of the two charges stemming from a March 7, 2018 incident in which he was accused of shooting his wife, Stephanie. A Laurel jury recommended that Davenport serve 35 years for the murder conviction and 5 years for tampering with physical evidence. The two sentences will run consecutively, or one after the other, giving Davenport a total of 40 years.
That verdict came after the jury convened for an hour and 20 minutes after hearing evidence and closing statements by the defense and prosecuting attorneys. Even less time was taken for the jury to decide Davenport's penalty, leaving the courtroom at 4:44 p.m. and returning with the recommended sentence at 5:33 p.m.
The defense's stance was that Stephanie was suicidal and that she had taken her own life on that fateful day in March of last year. The prosecution, however, presented witnesses that contradicted that theory.
One of the witnesses was Dr. Darius Arabadjief with the state Medical Examiner's Office. Arabadjief testified that he examined Stephanie's body and that although he could not exclude suicide, he pointed out that the angles of the gunshot wounds to Stephanie's body were "at an odd angle."
"Those are both odd angles to shoot yourself, especially the wound to the head," Arabadjief said. "I think it would be entirely impossible, based on my experience."
Defense attorney B. J. Foley countered that idea, asking Arabadjief if it was impossible for the gunshots to be self-inflicted, to which he responded that it could be possible. Foley then questioned Ariabadjief on the information he was initially given prior to the autopsy regarding the position that Stephanie was found following the shooting.
"I was told the coroner found her laying face down in the back yard," he said. "The gun was under her right hand and that there had been a history of domestic violence."
Defense witnesses, however, described Joshua Davenport as a kind and loving father to his two children, while Foley insisted even during closing arguments that Stephanie Davenport had caused her own death.
"Every witness that has been here, not one has had a single piece of evidence that Josh shot her," Foley said. "There were two shots. No one knows the sequence of the shots and the medical examiner even said it was an odd way to kill herself. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not aware of any formula to commit suicide. And the medical examiner said he could not exclude suicide."
Commonwealth's Attorney Jackie Steele then addressed the jury, telling them that suicide was highly improbable and that Joshua Davenport had indeed shot and killed his wife that March afternoon.
"The defense's theory is that of suicide and that Stephanie killed herself by shooting herself twice," Steele said. "There was no indication of suicide, she was seeing a counselor and Josh knew about the counseling and the struggles she faced. Then they said that Stephanie tried to commit suicide the evening prior to this. But there was no one called. The defendant said she was the love of his life, but she supposedly tried to kill herself the evening before and he never called anyone - not her counselor, not a hospital or the Trillium Center, not 911."
Steele also countered other aspects of the defense's case, mentioning the distance of the gun from the point of impact on Stephanie's head and chest area and the story of an attempted overdose the night before her death.
"The toxicology showed nothing in her blood or in her system," Steele said. "Josh said she woke him up, puking, but they did not find any puke anywhere in the bedroom. No, someone killed her and there was only one other person in the yard, only one person with her. Who had the opportunity, who had the motive — Joshua Davenport did."
The announcement of the verdict after the jury deliberated just over an hour was an emotional one that brought some outbursts from the Davenport family. Several family and friends put their heads in their hands and cried openly. Another woman rushed out of the courtroom and could be heard screaming in the hallway, "No, no, no, no!"
Members of Stephanie Davenport also cried silently on the opposite side of the fourth floor courtroom of the Laurel County Judicial Center but said they felt some justice had been given to their lost family member.
But another outburst brought numerous Sheriff's officials to the courtroom for the duration of the penalty phase, resulting in the two families being escorted out of the building separately and under the supervision of the bailiffs and Sheriff's deputies. The situation also prompted Laurel Circuit Judge Greg Lay, who presided over the trial, to outline the court etiquette for both families.
"I know this is emotional for both sides, but as part of being permitted in the courtroom, you are to conduct yourselves with the proper decorum," Lay said. "You must refrain from emotional outbursts and avoid addressing anyone in the courtroom or you can be removed from the courtroom."
After the verdict, Foley addressed the jurors, asking for leniency in Davenport's sentence.
"Josh is 40 years old, a loving and caring father of two. You heard his ex-wife testify to that. She's been here to support him throughout the trial," he said. "I'm asking for the minimum sentence of 20 years."
Steele, however, said the difference in the sentence lengths would fall on the amount of time Davenport would spend on parole after the prison sentence was completed.
"Even after 20 years, he's going to get out," Steele said. "I'm asking for a sentence to keep him supervised in our community for the rest of his life. He killed Stephanie just seven days after being released from jail on drug charges."
Davenport is scheduled for sentencing on Monday, Sept. 23 at 1 p.m.
The sentence was pleasing to Steele, who said he felt good about the result of the trial.
"The jury was very attentive and I feel good for Stephanie's family. Forty years is what I asked the jury. He's 40 now and will have to wait 20 years before he even meets the parole board to be eligible for parole," Steele said. "He will still be under supervision for 20 more years, and he'll be 80 then."
Family members of Stephanie Davenport said they had some resolution from the verdict and sentence, although no amount of prison time would ease their loss. They did express, however, their relief at the recommended sentence and that they had some closure in the situation.
"She gave her life to try and get him off drugs," said her mother. "Now our goal is to go and join her in Heaven, because that's where she is."