Attorneys for a former home day-care owner, on trial for killing an infant girl, worked hard to humanize him. And they had some success.
“I didn’t think he was a monster,” one of the jurors said Monday.
But it went only so far.
“I think what he did was monstrous,” she said.
And now, Kia Divband, 37, faces up to 65 years in a Maryland prison.
He was convicted late last week in Montgomery County of first-degree child abuse resulting in death, first-degree assault and other counts for injuries inflicted on 6-month-old Millie Lilliston at “Little Dreamers,” a day-care operation Divband had just started in his Rockville home. The jury acquitted him of second-degree felony murder.
The case against him surfaced 2½ years ago.
Detectives asserted that Divband first injured Millie in April 2016 but didn’t tell the girl’s parents. He inflicted fatal injuries on April 19 of that year. And prosecutors drew attention to Internet searches found on Divband’s computer and phone: “Broken Bones in Children,” “Why are bone fractures in children sometimes hard to detect” and “Can you move your foot if your leg is broken.”
In a first trial, a year ago, the case ended in a mistrial after jurors couldn’t reach unanimous verdicts. Prosecutors retried Divband starting in late August.
The juror, Maranda Cochran, called the evidence “overwhelming” that Divband fatally injured the child.
“Something that stuck with me was how thorough the state’s case was,” said Cochran, a speech therapist and mother of two who works at a Rockville hospital. She spoke in two interviews after the verdict. Other jurors declined to comment or could not be reached.
Divband blinked as the verdict was announced, before turning toward his wife, relatives and other supporters. He was led off in handcuffs and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 1.
Assistant State’s Attorneys Ashley Inderfurth and Ryan Wechsler are expected to seek a long prison term for Divband. “He shook her,” Inderfurth said in closing arguments. “He squeezed her. He slammed her.”
Divband’s attorneys, William Brennan and Nicholas Madiou, countered that no one ever saw Divband inflict the injuries. And in closing arguments, Brennan added, “There is no evidence that Kia Divband intended to cause any serious physical injury to Millie, none.”
He said later that while he respected the jury’s verdict, “we are evaluating all legal options — including an appeal.”
The recent trial, like the first one, swung from science to emotion.
Millie’s parents, Melanie Lilliston and Becky Williams, were the first witnesses called by prosecutors. They spoke about researching day-care options for Millie, visiting 10 to 12 places and adding their names to a half-dozen waiting lists.
“It just showed how much they cared about picking the right place for their daughter,” Cochran said. “To me, it made it all the more heartbreaking that the place they picked is where Millie was killed.”
The couple was drawn to Divband’s operation in part because he would be caring for his young child there with Millie, who would be the only other child at the center.
“What will haunt them forever is that they decided on Little Dreamers,” Inderfurth told jurors. “They decided on Little Dreamers because it was a family, it was in a home.”
Things started off well. Divband would text the parents with updates during the day.
Lilliston spoke about receiving a sudden telephone call on April 19, 2016, from Divband’s wife. Millie had choked, been resuscitated and was on the way to a hospital, and Lilliston was told she should go to the hospital quickly.
She testified about being led into the emergency room. Everyone around Millie took a step away, Lilliston said, choking up over the memory.
There was her daughter — 14 pounds, 8 ounces — on her back and unconscious, swallowed by a regular-size hospital bed. “All you could hear was the beeping of the noises of the machines,” Lilliston said
She walked up to Millie. “I grabbed her hand and I kissed her head,” Lilliston recalled. “Her eyes were closed. She was pale.”
Lilliston said she had been accustomed to seeing her child’s smile, how it could light up a room. “My Millie was not there,” she said from the witness stand. “Physically she was, but she was not.”
Williams testified that she watched Millie be loaded onto a helicopter to be taken to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. “You’re watching your whole life take off,” she told jurors, “and you can’t go.”
She and Lilliston drove to Children’s and stayed with Millie. The child died several days later.
Prosecutors told jurors that the infant had suffered injuries in the weeks before her death. They blamed Divband, saying that even when Millie’s parents noticed possible ailments — including swelling in one leg — they consulted doctors but were persuaded the problems would pass. “They told Millie’s parents that everything was fine,” Inderfurth said.
“I think they were extremely loving parents, trying to do their best,” said Cochran. “At no point did any of us say: ‘Boy, these parents really missed the boat here.’ ”
Prosecutors said Divband had grown weary of caring for Millie and had begun speaking to a local YMCA about returning to work there. They called as a witness his former boss at the YMCA, Lamar Braithwaite, who recalled Divband speaking to him and another YMCA staffer by phone on April 18, 2016.
“During that conversation, we heard a baby crying in the background,” Braithwaite said in court. “And he responded that he just couldn’t take it anymore, this baby just won’t stop crying.”
The next day, Millie suffered her fatal injuries.
Jurors deliberated for about 10 hours over two days. By late Friday morning, Cochran said, there was strong consensus that Divband was guilty of child abuse resulting in death, which meant that, based on the law, he’d inflicted the injuries and his intent was cruel, inhumane or malicious.
On the second-degree felony murder charge, Cochran said, three jurors said they had reasonable doubt that Divband knew it was “reasonably foreseeable” that death would result from the injuries he was inflicting. By Friday afternoon, the jury was deadlocked on the murder charge and was unanimous in guilty verdicts on the other counts, Cochran said.
The three who were against second-degree murder picked up support from other jurors, including Cochran — not because Cochran was convinced they were correct, she said, but “we could see how someone else could have reasonable doubt on that charge.”
Cochran said she felt sad for Divband and his family, from whom he will be separated. “I can’t imagine what they must feel like,” she said.
“I don’t think he set out that day to kill Millie. I think moments of madness came over him,” Cochran said.
Over the weekend, Cochran said, she remained deeply affected by what had happened to Millie and by images she saw during the trial, particularly one: a photograph from the child’s autopsy. “Her face,” Cochran said, “was angelic.”