A Patient at the Door With a Gun

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008

Michele Davidson watched her son, Grant, struggle with a severe birth defect for more than a year. She blamed her doctor for delaying his delivery -- and she wanted him to feel her pain, according to court testimony yesterday.

Davidson, 39, drove to the Leesburg home of her doctor and former employer, Chauncey Stokes, rang the doorbell and walked inside. Then, pointing a gun at her head, Davidson threatened to kill herself, Stokes testified, but only after making him and his wife wait as long as she said she did for the delivery: 1 hour 30 minutes.

She said "she wanted [us] to feel the fear and the hopelessness," Chauncey Stokes testified at the preliminary hearing in Loudoun County General District Court. At the end of that time, she said, "she was going to kill herself," Stokes said.

The couple's 11-year-old daughter slipped out of the house and went for help. Sheriff's deputies eventually persuaded Davidson to put down the gun and charged her with breaking into the home May 31 and abducting the couple. Yesterday, General District Court Judge Julia Taylor Cannon found sufficient evidence to send the case against Davidson, a George Mason University professor and midwife, to the grand jury for possible indictment.

After the hearing, Chauncey Stokes declined to comment on the May 15, 2007, delivery or Davidson's claims that he caused her son's spastic quadriplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. He also declined to discuss the case against Davidson, who had worked for Stokes as a nurse midwife since 2000.

"She was extremely distraught, suffered from postpartum depression, and her only intent was to harm herself," Leesburg lawyer Todd F. Sanders said yesterday of his client, who lives in Ashburn with her husband and four children, including Grant, now 15 months.

But Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann said Davidson terrorized the Stokes family with a loaded gun.

Davidson, who has been detained since her arrest, appeared in court in an orange jumpsuit, her ankles shackled, sobbing as the Stokeses recalled her actions from the witness stand.

LaSheryl Stokes, 52, testified that the doorbell rang about 10:30 a.m. that day and that her 11-year-old daughter got to the door ahead of her. When the door opened, Stokes said, she saw Davidson outside holding a handgun down at her right side. "Where is your father?" LaSheryl recalled Davidson asking her daughter.

"I said, 'Oh my God, Chauncey! Michele is at the door with a gun!' " Stokes said. Davidson then entered the house, while the Stokeses' daughter ran to a neighbor's house, where police were called. Once inside, Davidson pointed the gun first at LaSheryl, then at her husband, when he entered the room, the couple testified.

LaSheryl said she retreated to the bathroom, and her husband tried to leave the house but was blocked by Davidson. At one point, he threw two napkin holders at her, he said. The standoff continued about 15 to 20 minutes, his wife said.

Stokes said Davidson at one point put the gun to her head -- although her finger was not on the trigger -- and said she was going to kill herself. When sheriff's deputies arrived, they found Davidson in the foyer with the gun in her hand. When they ordered her to drop the weapon, she said, "You're going to have to shoot me," Deputy Nicholas Campbell testified.

After several minutes, the deputies were able to get Davidson to relinquish the gun, Campbell said, which was found to contain a loaded magazine but no bullet in the chamber, meaning that if the trigger had been pulled, it would not have fired, he said.

According to court records filed by Sanders, Davidson was admitted to Inova Loudoun Hospital complaining of "lower quadrant pain." Informed of complications by phone, Stokes "ordered that Ms. Davidson be prepared for an emergency cesarean section. Dr. Stokes drove to the hospital and performed the cesarean section," the bond motion states.

Sanders said in the court papers that standard medical practice dictates that an emergency Caesarean should occur no longer than 30 minutes from the moment that decision is made -- "from decision to incision." Davidson contends that it took Stokes more than an hour, Sanders said. Davidson has delivered more than 1,000 babies during her career, Sanders said.

In his bond motion, Sanders said Davidson entered into a birthing contract with Stokes that specified that he participated in the Virginia Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Act, which provides for a number of lifetime benefits if an infant "suffers from an injury from a lack of oxygen at the time of birth."

Davidson later learned that Stokes was not making the annual $5,000 contribution to the program necessary to make Grant eligible for benefits, Sanders wrote, and she filed a lawsuit against him and his wife in Loudoun County Circuit Court, accusing him of breach of contract and fraud. The case is pending, and a judge has ordered that several of the counts be dismissed, according to Stokes's attorney, Paul Walkinshaw.

Davidson's mother, Geri Lewis, said her daughter has been distraught since the birth of Grant, who will never walk and might never talk. With blue-eyed Grant sitting on her lap Tuesday evening in Davidson's home -- the boy's legs stiffening uncontrollably -- Lewis recalled her daughter's lifetime of high achievement.

Born and raised in Canfield, Ohio, Davidson has a doctorate in nursing administration from George Mason University, was an accomplished researcher and author of several textbooks on nursing, and had known from an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. "I just can't understand all of this," Lewis said. "She had postpartum depression. She was seeing a psychiatrist, and she was seeing a therapist. She knew she wasn't feeling right."

Now, without Davidson's income, her family will have to sell its house, said her mother, who has been helping Davidson's husband, Nathan, take care of their children in recent months.

Wittmann, the prosecutor, said Davidson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company