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After being found guilty of toddler's death, Sioux City man faces life in prison for murder

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SIOUX CITY -- The soft sobbing began as soon as the word "guilty" came from District Judge Tod Deck's mouth.

Two families hoping for opposite verdicts, experiencing the same reaction.

One family relieved at the thought of justice for a little girl whose life ended prematurely. The other family distraught, knowing a loved one had just been found guilty of a crime that will land him in prison for the rest of his life.

After roughly two hours of deliberations, a Woodbury County jury of six men and six women on Wednesday found Tayvon Davis guilty of first-degree murder, child endangerment resulting in the death of a child and multiple acts of child endangerment for the August 2018 death of 19-month-old Maelynn Myers, who never regained consciousness after Davis and Maelynn's grandmother rushed the unresponsive girl to a Sioux City emergency room. She died three days later at an Omaha hospital.

Davis showed no visible emotions after the verdicts were announced.

Maelynn's family immediately left the courtroom after the verdict and went to the Woodbury County Attorney's Office to meet with prosecutors. A victims advocate said the family did not wish to make a statement.

Davis' family, as well as public defenders Jennifer Solberg and Laury Kleinschmidt, also declined to comment.

Davis, 26, of Sioux City, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for murder. The other two charges both carry 50-year prison sentences. Deck did not immediately set a sentencing date.

Prosecutors said the death was the result of weeks of abuse by Davis. He told investigators he had dropped the girl after giving her a bath, and she stopped breathing.

Throughout six days of trial, prosecutors used witness testimony and evidence to convince jurors that Davis injured the girl numerous times while watching the child in the Sioux City apartment he shared with the girl's mother, Shannon Myers. The girl's health had deteriorated since Aug. 1, the beginning of a period in which Davis spent more time watching the girl alone while Myers was at work. In Maelynn's final three weeks of life, Myers and her mother took the girl to the doctor repeatedly for illnesses and other physical ailments doctors struggled to diagnose. The night before she lost consciousness, Maelynn was a sluggish child who hardly touched her favorite meal of McDonald's chicken nuggets and french fries.

In closing arguments, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Nicole Leonard showed jurors a photo of Maelynn hooked up to a ventilator in the hospital. None of the defense's arguments that Maelynn was accidentally hurt when Davis dropped her or tried to revive her could explain the toddler's severe injuries.

"That little girl didn't end up this way because of CPR. That little girl ended up this way because the defendant repeatedly beat her until her body broke down and couldn't take it anymore," Leonard said.

A medical examiner ruled Maelynn's death a homicide caused by blunt-force injuries. The girl's long list of injuries included bruising on her forehead and back, bleeding throughout the brain, a torn blood vessel to her left kidney, hemorrhaging in both eyes, the abdomen and in the muscles at the back of her neck, bone fractures -- both new and healing -- in both legs, an arm, two vertebrae and several ribs.

Tayvon Davis murder trial

Tayvon Davis, left, looks into the gallery while seated next to public defender Laury Kleinschmidt June 9 during the first day of his first-degree murder trial in Woodbury County District Court. Jurors on Wednesday found him guilty of the August 2018 death of 19-month-old Maelynn Myers.

Medical experts disagreed on the possible causes. The state's witnesses concluded the injuries were caused by trauma of a force similar to being in a car crash. A defense expert disagreed, offering alternative medical explanations that, he concluded, showed the injuries were accidental or occurred naturally because Maelynn had stopped breathing for several minutes before she was revived in the emergency room.

The fact doctors couldn't agree should raise enough reasonable doubt in jurors' minds to acquit Davis, Kleinschmidt said in the defense's closing arguments.

"This isn't an intentional murder," she said. "Tayvon Davis is not a monster. Tayvon Davis did not beat Maelynn to death."

The state's witnesses didn't even offer any ideas how Davis might have caused the injuries, Kleinschmidt said, and ignored Davis' explanation and the fact that the girl's mother and grandmother also spent long hours alone with Maelynn.

"It's a case about the search for a reason why and the search for someone to blame for the loss of a child," Kleinschmidt said.

But those injuries all had one thing in common, Assistant Woodbury County Attorney Kristine Timmins said. According to doctors' estimates on the age of the injuries, all fit into a time period when Davis spent several days watching Maelynn by himself.

"She wasn't in a car accident. She wasn't in a multi-story fall. She was with the defendant," Timmins said.

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