HOUSTON - Derion Vence pleaded guilty on Thursday to tampering with a corpse and injury to a child in the case of 4-year-old Maleah Davis. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Maleah's remains were brought back to Houston, where the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences identified them as the missing girl and completed an autopsy. The medical examiner said her death was caused by "homicidal violence".
"Children are the most vulnerable members of our community and young Maleah’s death is tragic," District Attorney Kim Ogg said. "We may never have all the answers in this case and our thoughts are with her family."
Intentional injury to a child which causes serious injury by act or omission is a first degree felony. He was sentenced to 40 years for intentional injury to a child and 20 years for tampering with a corpse. Vence will serve the sentences concurrently.
In a statement, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said, "I am so proud of our homicide detectives who spent countless hours and traveled countless miles investigating the murder of this innocent angel. We commend Assistant District Attorney Alycia Harvey and the Harris County D.A.’s Office for being outstanding partners in this case from beginning to end. HPD is committed to working with all of our criminal justice partners to ensure that justice is received for Maleah and all victims of violent crime to enhance public safety across Houston. We believe justice was done with this sentence. We will continue to pray for Maleah’s family and hope that today’s actions give them a sense of closure."
Authorities say Vence dated Maleah's mother, and he was watching the girl while her mother was out of state on a trip.
Vence showed up to Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital on the night of May 4 with his one-year-old son seeking treatment for a head injury. He claimed to have been attacked the night before on his way to pick up Maleah's mother, Brittany Bowens, from George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
He told police that Maleah and his infant son were in the car with him, when he pulled over to check his tire around Greens Road and Highway 59. Vence then claimed that three Hispanic men pulled up in a blue Chevy pickup truck and beat him up until he passed out. He reported that the next day he regained consciousness near First Colony Mall. Maleah and his car were nowhere to be found, but his son was still with him.
The following day, volunteers and Texas EquuSearch began looking for the four-year-old girl. They began their search in the northeast Houston area where Vence alleged the abduction occurred.
Police announced conflicting information from Derion, and the search was shifted to the area near the southwest Houston apartment where Maleah lived.
FIRST ON FOX: Mother of Maleah Davis sits down with FOX 26
A Houston police detective then told FOX 26 that Derion Vence was a person of interest in the disappearance of Maleah.
Two days later, the silver Nissan Altima was located in the parking lot of a Missouri City shopping center. Police said all the car's tires appear to be fine.
Prosecutors say dogs picked up the scent of a human cadaver in the car's trunk. They said a laundry basket and a gas can were also found in the trunk.
Vence was arrested and charged with tampering with evidence, namely a human corpse, on May 11.
The search by volunteers continued for days across the Houston area, including Vence's former mail route in Rosharon.
Texas EquuSearch then suspended their search until they could obtain more information that would put them in the right location to find Maleah. Meanwhile, volunteers continued searching through wooded areas.
A reward was announced, and it quickly climbed to $27,500.
Just before noon on May 31, Quanell X held a press conference with Texas EquuSearch founder Tim Miller. Quanell X said he spoke with Vence in jail. He said Vence told him that Maleah's death was an accident and that he admitted to dumping her body in a ditch in Arkansas.
"One thing [Vence] wanted to make clear to me was that what happened to Maleah was an accident," Quanell said. "He confessed to me where he dumped her body."
Detectives and Tim Miller made plans to fly to Arkansas that afternoon to search the area where he said he left the body.
Just a few hours later, the garbage bag was discovered on the Arkansas roadway by a mowing crew.
On August 5, 2019, Vence was charged with injury to a child.