ELYRIA — Convicted rapist Devante Gibbs’ demeanor shifted Thursday from smirking to sobbing to placing his face in his hands and his head on the table in front of him during a sentencing hearing that ended with him receiving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
When it was his chance to speak at the hearing he defiantly continued to insist that he hadn’t sexually assaulted the then-2-year-old victim while he was baby-sitting her Sept. 18, 2013, before placing her in hot bathwater to destroy the DNA evidence.
“All the people that believe that they just helped this child get justice, they truly failed,” Gibbs told Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Christopher Rothgery.
Gibbs, 24, also said he has hired a private investigator to look for evidence that will clear him.
“I realize I will be receiving a life sentence, but I will not stop trying to find the monster that did this,” he said. “Despite what the jury verdict was I would never, ever even think of raping someone, let alone a baby.”
He said the allegations against him didn’t make sense and that he couldn’t have raped the girl, who was found to have chlamydia, because he didn’t have the same sexually transmitted disease.
Gibbs, who fled the Lorain County Justice Center Feb. 10 while jurors were deliberating, did acknowledge he was responsible for the burns the girl received on her lower body.
In his testimony during the trial he said he drew himself a bath so he could “soak and smoke,” but the water was too hot so he went outside his Sheffield Township apartment to smoke a cigarette. When he came back inside, Gibbs has said, the girl was in the tub and he pulled her out and pushed on her chest to get her to cough up water.
He didn’t tell the girl’s mother about the incident until the next day when her condition deteriorated. The girl was hospitalized for about a month while she recovered from the burns, internal injuries and a life-threatening infection.
Assistant County Prosecutor Stephanie Malanowski said the girl had been “at death’s door.” She also said Gibbs had denied responsibility while making the case all about himself and his needs, including his “selfish, twisted sexual desires.”
The girl’s mother didn’t attend, but in a letter read aloud in court by Malanowski she called Gibbs a “cowardly, despicable, poor excuse of a human being” and urged Rothgery to impose the maximum sentence.
She wrote that her daughter continues to suffer over what happened.
“Her first few months out of the hospital were some of the worst,” the letter said. “She would constantly hide in fear, that light that I loved shattered by that horrific event.”
The letter also said the girl continues to fear the water and is embarrassed by the scars from the burns and the medical procedures that mar her body.
“One day I’ll have to sit her down and explain to her why the scars exist,” the letter said. “It is my worst nightmare as her mother to look her in the eyes when she is older and explain to her how someone can be so sinister and violate her sweet innocence at the age of 2.”
Both the mother and Malanowski said that after he fled the courtroom before the jury returned guilty verdicts on charges of rape, kidnapping, child endangering and felonious assault, Gibbs mocked law enforcement and the court on social media.
Gibbs was caught in Long Beach, Calif., on Feb. 18 and arrested after a brief struggle with law enforcement. He was brought back to Lorain County last week.
Gibbs said Thursday that guards at the Lorain County Jail and inmates have made his life miserable since his return and some have threatened to have him killed when he gets to a state prison. He said he doesn’t expect to live a year because of the threats he said he’s received.
Rothgery said because Gibbs fled the trial he’s not convinced that even if he had given him a chance at parole that Gibbs would have complied with the rules that govern parolees.
Gibbs is still facing tampering with evidence and possession of criminal tools charges in a separate case in which he is accused of trying to use a device known as the “Whizzinator” to try to beat a drug test while free on bond.
Defense attorney Brian Darling declined to comment after Thursday’s hearing, but told Rothgery that his client plans to appeal.
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