Father who brutally murdered five-year-old son escapes death penalty, sentenced to life imprisonment
Darell Avant Sr. told police that, as a form of punishment for acting out in preschool, he made his son do push-ups and squats before he passed out
Last week, a Florida father escaped the death penalty after he was found guilty of beating his five-year-old son to death. The jury presiding over the case took less than an hour to come to a consensus on Thursday in Orange County. Instead of a death sentence, Darell Avant Sr., the father, will be spending the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Avant showed no emotion as his fate was laid out in front of him, said local media outlets who were present in court for the hearing. He has been in jail since the death of his son, Darell Avant Jr., on December 18, 2013.
On the fateful day, Avant Jr. spent time at their Burroughs Court home in Pine Hills with his father and one-year-old brother after being sent home from kindergarten for behaving badly. After the sun went down, a neighbor received a call from Avant to come over to his apartment as young Darell was not responding to him.
Law enforcement authorities were told by the father that, as a form of punishment for acting out in preschool, he made Avant Jr. do push-ups and squats. After a while, the son complained of being overheated and so Avant told him to cool off by taking a shower. Just as little Darell was getting dressed, he passed out, according to Avant's version of events.
According to deputies, Avant told them that he slapped the boy's face and tried to wake him after he collapsed, but in vain. He then picked his son up and rocked him in an attempt to bring him back to consciousness.
That being said, an autopsy told a completely different story of what led to the child's death. Revealing 208 bruises and 12 rib fractures, coroners deemed the cause of death as internal bleeding as a result of blunt force trauma. As the reports emerged, Avant had no justification for his son's injuries.
"The doctors feel this was a beating that took a long period of time," said Detective Kevin Wilson of the Orange County Sheriff's Office, at the time. "According to the doctors and his biological mother, he did not have wounds earlier in the day."
In the arrest report, a deputy had already mentioned that he saw injuries on the boy's body "which were multiple bruises and contusions on the upper torso, abdomen, arms, and back."
Furthermore, Avant had reportedly made some rather worrying searches on Google just 30 minutes before his neighbor responded to his call, according to phone records seized by authorities. Allegedly, Avant had looked up 'eyes roll in back of head' and 'how to tell if an infant is dead' on the said searches.
When the neighbor came over, he began performing CPR on young Darell but in vain. Finally, Avant dialed 911.
Avant had reportedly sustained head injuries and, thus, it was difficult for him to make a decision, his legal team argued throughout the course of the hearing.
Defense attorney Roger Weeden said, "It was a very difficult case, given the age of the child and the injuries. But I think when the jury said it was not heinous, atrocious and cruel, they knew he did not intentionally cause this horrible death that his son suffered."
"They [the jury] recognized that even though these are horrific injuries, that mercy can be bestowed," Weeden said.
However, Jessica Phillips, Avant Jr.'s biological mother, will never grant mercy to the boy's father. Although she testified during the trial, she was not present on Thursday for Avant's sentencing. Phillips, a devastated mother, says she regrets not picking her son up from kindergarten herself that day.
"He meant the world, he meant the world to me. And no words, no words can explain how much he meant to me," Phillips said. "You're wrong for what you did to him. He did not have to go through this," Phillips told Avant at the time.
Back when Avant was arrested, the court ordered that his younger son be placed in the custody of the mother. Authorities reported at the time that the one-year-old had witnessed the whole incident. "He needs to pay for what he did to my son," said Avant Jr.'s mother at the time.
Just two days after investigators first said he beat his boy to death, the 26-year-old father went before the judge who stripped him of his younger son's custody.
"It's our understanding that the father was caring for the five-year-old and the one-year-old at the time the incident occurred," said Department of Children and Families spokesperson Kristi Gray at the time.
Back then, the Department of Children and families had to probe into the health of the one-year-old boy, whether he had suffered abuse at the hands of his father as well.
"The court felt it was necessary to take a closer look at that child," said Gray at the time. According to criminal records, Avant has had a history of domestic violence and is a repeat offender.