ELYRIA – Devante Gibbs was found guilty of rape, kidnapping, child endangering and felonious assault Friday, but he wasn’t in court to hear the verdict or to witness the chaotic scene as some of his supporters exploded in anger when the first guilty findings were announced.
Several of Gibbs’ supporters cursed at the victim’s family and one was physically removed from the Lorain County Justice Center by deputies, Sgt. Josh Croston said.
Family and friends of Devante Gibbs huddle in the hallway after a disturbance in the courtroom in his rape case at the Lorain County Justice Center on Feb. 10. Gibbs did not appear in court.
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No one was arrested, Croston said, and calmer members of Gibbs’ family helped calm down the angriest man and then returned to the courtroom where they swayed and wiped away tears as the rest of the verdicts were announced.
Defense attorney Brian Darling said the last he heard from his 24-year-old client, who had been free on a $50,000 bond, he had gone outside to smoke a cigarette around 3 p.m.
By the time the jury reached its decision around 4:15 p.m., no one knew where Gibbs was. Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery said he had made it clear to Gibbs that he needed to remain in or near the Justice Center while the jury was deliberating.
Darling said Gibbs’ friends and family looked for him throughout the Justice Center and also drove around the surrounding area looking for him to no avail.
“We can’t find him,” Darling said after the verdict, adding that this is the first time he’s had a client disappear while a jury was deliberating.
Rothgery waited for around 25 minutes from the time jurors informed court staff that they had reached verdict before he announced their decision in open court over Darling’s objections.
Darling said he objected because he wanted Gibbs to be present to hear the verdict in person.
Judge Christopher Rothgery reads verdicts in Devante Gibbs trial on Feb. 10.
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Rothgery revoked Gibbs’ bond and issued a warrant for his arrest. He also urged those members of Gibbs’ family who returned to the courtroom to use whatever influence they had to get Gibbs to turn himself in.
“He will be arrested,” Rothgery said.
The judge said that not only could he order the money from bond posted on Gibbs’ behalf forfeited, but he also warned that there could be an impact on the sentence as well.
“Maybe more importantly, the vast array of sentencing options this court has, which can almost certainly be influenced by his willingness to be here to take responsibility or influenced to the contrary by his continuing to absent himself from the court’s jurisdiction,” Rothgery said. “…I’ll see you folks when we find Mr. Gibbs.”
Darling said after the hearing that the maximum sentence Gibbs faces in the case is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gibbs, who is still awaiting trial on unrelated tampering with evidence and possession of criminal tools charges, insisted when he took the stand Thursday that he hadn’t raped the then-2-year-old victim, who he was watching on Sept. 18, 2013.
He said that he drew himself a bath in his Sheffield Township apartment, but the water was too hot so he went outside to smoke. When he came back inside, Gibbs testified, the girl was in the tub and he pulled her out and pushed on her chest to get water out of her lungs.
Gibbs acknowledged that he didn’t tell the girl’s mother about what happened even when the girl appeared ill and blisters began to form on her legs and feet that night. It wasn’t until the next day when the girl’s condition worsened that he told the mother and they took the girl to get medical attention that ended up being roughly a month in the hospital.
Gibbs also told jurors in sometimes contentious testimony that while someone had indeed raped the child, he wasn’t the one who had done so.
Assistant County Prosecutor Stephanie Malanowski, however, argued Friday that the evidence showed the girl had been sexually assaulted, which resulted in her becoming septic from infection and nearly dying. That wasn’t result of the hot water, which she contended Gibbs used to destroy DNA evidence.
“He raped that child (and) held her in the water to get rid of the evidence,” she told jurors during her closing argument.
Darling said he believed his client was guilty of one of the child endangering charges because he failed to protect the girl from the hot bath water, but he said that was all his client did wrong.
He said while some medical personnel believed the girl was sexually assaulted, others didn’t find evidence of that.
“I would submit to you that this child wasn’t raped at all,” he said.
Following the verdict, the mother of the girl, who is now 5 years old, said she was pleased with the verdict.
“(She) got her justice,” the mother said as she left the courtroom.