Grandma to Stand Trial in Girl's Death After Allegedly Withholding Medical Treatment

A 52-year-old woman will stand trial on a murder charge for allegedly failing to provide adequate medical treatment for her granddaughter, who died of malnutrition and dehydration in 2005.

Linda Walsham, of Neosho, was bound over to McDonald County Circuit Court after waiving her preliminary hearing late last week. Walsham and her daughter, Karen Davenport, 31, now of Bentonville, Ark., each face a charge of second-degree murder in the death of Hannah Davenport, 6, on Jan. 29, 2005, at the family's former home in Anderson.

The child weighed 27 pounds and was about 3 feet 4 inches tall at the time of her death.

Medical records showed that Hannah was born with a defect to her digestive tract. The girl underwent surgery when she was 2, and had required frequent doctors' visits and a special diet of soft food.

The women originally were charged with one count each of voluntary manslaughter or, in the alternative, one count each of involuntary manslaughter. Those charges were filed in early February 2005 by then-McDonald County Prosecutor Steve Geeding.

Geeding's successor, Janice Durbin, dismissed those charges in the spring of 2007 so they could be replaced with the murder charges.

In a probable-cause affidavit that was filed in February 2005, McDonald County sheriff's Deputy Gregg Sweeten stated that a caller alerted 911 emergency dispatchers on Jan. 29, 2005, that a child was unconscious and not breathing at Karen Davenport's home in Anderson.

Ambulance workers later said Walsham and one of Hannah's uncles were doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the girl when they arrived at the home. She was later declared dead at a Joplin hospital.

An autopsy later determined that malnutrition and dehydration were the causes of Hannah's death, according to the affidavit.

During Walsham and Davenport's original preliminary hearing in November 2005, prosecutors contended doctors warned both women that Hannah would need a special diet and routine visits to doctors. Both women allegedly ignored those instructions, resulting in the girl's death, prosecutors said.

Sarah Luce Reeder, a Joplin attorney who was representing both women at that time, questioned whether doctors had told the women that the girl would need extra care throughout her life. She further questioned the medical examiner's conclusion that Hannah died of malnutrition and dehydration.