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1296650314361

another son.
'Heartbroken' judge faces
scrutiny after Khalil Leak's However, Davidson — Westchester Family Court's
supervising judge — citedmedical reports that she
death said might explain his injuries. The baby boy had a
vitamin K deficiency, which causes bleeding and
bruising. He had been hospitalized several times in
Family Court Judge Kathie Davidson held the fate of his first months of life; some of the injuries were
2-year-old Khalil Leak in her hands. weeks old and had not been detected by doctors
before.
Westchester County authorities said the boy, who
had a bleeding brain and broken bones, had been
beaten badly. But Davidson found that the county The judge criticized the doctor who testified for
didn't prove its case, offering medical evidence that DSS, saying the doctor hadn't looked at many of the
she said required "mental gymnastics" to boy's earlier medical records. And she spoke
understand. favorably of the parents, saying they showed an
"appropriate level of concern" for Khalil and did
So she sent the toddler home to the parents their best to get him timely treatment.
suspected of abusing him, ruling on the case after
acknowledging she knew the New Rochelle boy's The judge noted the boy's law guardian, Lisa Colin,
grandmother. supported his return. She made no mention of
Richard Leak's criminal past and seemed to
Seven months later, Khalil was dead. His father, downplay the fact he had tested positive for
Richard Leak, is charged with murder, accused of marijuana days earlier.
smashing the boy against a hard surface, fracturing
his skull and ribs. Though the county DSS had supported the long-
term goal of reuniting Khalil with his parents, it
The tragic outcome has made Davidson a target of opposed the judge's decision to return him in June.
criticism despite her reputation as a fair, caring
judge. Even her most ardent supporters are second- The agency filed an appeal that was pending when
guessing her decision. the boy died. DSS representatives are scheduled to
discuss the case with a county legislature committee
"She was trying to be fair and judicious, but this was Tuesday.
just a bad mistake," said Orial Redd, former
chairwoman of the Black Democrats of Westchester, Cathryn Lavery, who chairs the criminal justice
who nominated Davidson for county clerk in 1997. department at Iona College, questioned Davidson's
"I'm sure she just regrets it." connection to the child's grandmother, calling it "a
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Davidson has been described by a court official as
"heartbroken" over Khalil's death.

Davidson, who is serving her seventh year in a


court that is typically shielded from public view, has
declined to discuss her decision. State court policy
bans judges from commenting on open cases. But
the tragic end of the Leak case has prompted
widespread scrutiny of her ruling.

Boy's bruises

The county Department of Social Services had


ordered Khalil removed from his New Rochelle home
in March 2009, soon after he arrived at a hospital
with a brain hemorrhage, broken ribs and a
fractured femur. The boy's father had been
convicted previously of assaulting the mother of

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little troubling." was raised in a family that includes several doctors


and lawyers; her father was a surgeon-turned-
During the case, the judge was up front about lawyer who died in 2007.
knowing Khalil's grandmother, describing her as an
acquaintance from years earlier whom she had come She graduated from New Rochelle High School,
across at a church service once Khalil's case had earned her law degree from Howard University in
begun. Washington, D.C., and later practiced law in New
Rochelle.
Davidson asked the parties whether they objected to
her keeping the case, said David Bookstaver, a Friends describe Davidson as quiet and reserved,
spokesman for the Office of Court Administration. yet highly motivated. She joined the Black Democrats
They did not object, and she proceeded. of Westchester and the Westchester Black Women's
Political Caucus. She also sat on the New Rochelle
Bookstaver said there was no ongoing relationship Zoning Board of Appeals.
or friendship between the two; he said Davidson
revealed the encounter out of an abundance of In 1996, she represented eight black community
caution. leaders in New Rochelle who were arrested after
protesting the city's hiring practices. The next year,
"I don't know how much of that may have affected she ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for county
her decision," Lavery said of Davidson's personal clerk — the first black woman to run for a
connection. "Obviously, at some level, she felt that countywide office other than a judgeship.
placing the child back would be safe."
In 1998, then-County Executive Andrew Spano hired
her as a deputy county attorney in the law
Respected by peers department, where she worked in the Minority and
Women Owned Business Enterprise Program.
The Leak case was the first of Davidson's decisions
to make front-page headlines. Those familiar with She ran for Family Court judge in 2003, winning a
her time in Family Court say she has earned the 10-year term.
respect of peers as a smart and impartial judge, and
beforehand as a lawyer, politician and activist. "I was very pleased when she went into law," said
Orial Redd. "My husband (M. Paul Redd, who also
Reggie Lafayette, the county's Democratic chairman, chaired the Black Democrats of Westchester) and I
said Davidson has always been a "very fair, both worked hard to have her elected a judge."
straightforward and competent person."
In 2004, Davidson was appointed supervising judge
for family courts in the 9th Judicial District, which
"She proved her fairness when she alerted (DSS) that
she would recuse herself from the case because she Advertisement
knew parties involved," Lafayette said. "They had
confidence in her to stay on the case. She's not that
type of person who would do a favor for someone.
She would do what the law requires. She's always
had a clean background."

Davidson has never been sanctioned by the state


Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigates
complaints about judges. The commission does not
acknowledge whether accusations have been filed
against a judge or whether one is the subject of an
ongoing probe.

New Rochelle roots

Davidson, 55, grew up in New Rochelle, the


daughter of the late Arthur and Jennie Davidson. She

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covers Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and


Dutchess counties. She is also a member of the
Westchester County Domestic Violence Council and
sits on the Law Guardian Panel Advisory Committee
for the 9th Judicial District.

The Leak case is one of hundreds she's presided


over.

"No one has a crystal ball," said Jane Aoyama-


Martin, director of Pace Women's Justice Center. "The
law does say that reunification of families is
paramount. The state is not in the business of
removing kids from their parents unless they
absolutely have to."

Friends expressed empathy for Davidson. Tim Idoni,


county clerk and former New Rochelle mayor, has
known Davidson since high school, where he was a
football player and she was captain of the
cheerleading squad. He said they became
reacquainted when he ran for New Rochelle mayor
in 1991.

"I think Judge Davidson, being the very intelligent


and compassionate person she is, will make the
right decision close to 100 percent of the time," he
said. "I see no reason not to support her now."

Redd described the case's outcome as "devastating."

"I want to let her know I love her and that I'm so
sorry that this happened," she said. "The practice of
law is not a perfect science."

Staff writer Jonathan Bandler contributed to this


report.
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center, which handles the most severe medical


Babies' deaths demand emergencies. Westchester staff alerted Haverstraw
answers police to the injuries at 10:15 a.m. Sunday. Michele
died of her injuries at 11:35 a.m., before police and
Rockland prosecutors had time to get to the Valhalla
hospital.
In the span of a week and some 35 miles, two babies
were beaten to death, their fathers accused of
murder, and an 11-day-old smothered in a baby
carrier. So much vulnerability, so much lost. The Decisions for review
deaths are unrelated. Some of the circumstances
overlap; some details are starkly different. What Khalil Leak of New Rochelle was pronounced dead at
remains is our collective responsibility to learn what 2 a.m. Jan. 9, brought by emergency workers to
lessons can be gleaned from these cases, pursue Sound Shore Medical Center. His mother, K-Daya
what justice is required, and take what precautions Ravizee, was already at the hospital; she had taken
we can to keep children safe. Khalil's little brother, 5-month-old Kaiden, there for
respiratory problems.
The deaths of Michele Aviles, 5 months old, and
Khalil Leak, age 2, have resulted in second-degree The evening before, Khalil was home with his father,
murder charges against their fathers. In Mount Richard Leak, 30, as his mother was at Sound Shore
Vernon, police have called the asphyxiation of the with baby Kaiden. Richard Leak, police said, called
11-day-old girl an accident. The district attorneys Ravizee to say Khalil had problems breathing, too.
in all three cases continue to investigate. The mother called the babysitter, who lives in the
same Main Street building. The babysitter found
Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who was Khalil unresponsive, performed CPR and called 911
present for the autopsy on little Michele's body, at 1:15 a.m. Khalil was taken to Sound Shore, where
declined to discuss the case. "It is early on and we he was pronounced dead at 2 a.m.
have a ways to go," Zugibe told the Editorial Board.
"These (investigations) are always complex ... I don't Abuse was not a new experience for Khalil Leak. In
feel it would be appropriate" to comment. February 2009, the tot was placed in foster care
after he suffered 15 broken ribs, a broken leg and
Their deaths have stirred sadness, anger and bleeding on the brain. A year later, the boy was
frustration. And many questions remain. returned to his family after Family Court Judge
Kathie Davidson said it couldn't be discerned if his
Blunt force trauma injuries had anything to do with his medical
conditions, which included anemia, and a vitamin K
Michele Aviles died Sunday. Her skull was fractured, deficiency. The county did not file an appeal. Those
tiny ribs broken, her body bruised. Her father,
Michael A. Aviles, 41, was charged Monday with Advertisement
second-degree murder. He remained in Rockland
County jail Tuesday. He and girlfriend Lissette
Capellan, Michele's mother, live in a rear apartment
of a house on Hudson Avenue in Haverstraw village.
Michael Aviles has five other children; some live in
Puerto Rico; and some live in Pennsylvania, Zugibe
said. Michele was Capellan's only child.

The felony complaint against the father, read


Monday in Haverstraw Town Court, said Michele's
injuries — from "blunt force trauma to the head,
body and torso" — included fractures and swelling
to the brain and skull.

The infant had originally been taken to Nyack


Hospital by the parents, but was then transferred to
Westchester Medical Center, the region's Trauma I

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judgments cry out for more scrutiny. old daughter. (Vincent DiSalvio/The Journal News)

Richard Leak is accused of slamming Khalil's head


against a hard surface, an act that the medical
examiner says caused the child's death. He remains
in Westchester County Jail, a familiar place. In the
last decade, he has spent time there for crimes
ranging from probation violations to assault: He
had beat up the mother of another son, as the little
boy looked on.

'Terrible accident'

The 11-day-old girl was asphyxiated during an


outing in the Bronx with her mother and the
custodial grandmother, who lives in Mount Vernon.
Police have said, due to the mother's mental
capacity, she did not have custody of the newborn
or her four other children. The infant was in a front-
facing position in a harness, wrapped in a blanket
and zippered up in her 20-year-old mother's coat
during a trip that included a visit to a social
services office in the Bronx, a stop to get pizza and
shopping. When the family returned home and tried
to wake up the baby, she was unresponsive. The
family called 911. It was too late. The Westchester
district attorney continues to examine the case.

We owe a duty to each of these dependent,


defenseless victims to get to the bottom of their
deaths, and to see that both justice and
accountability are served. It can hardly be imagined
that all the explanations will be satisfying.

A Journal News editorial

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Police officers lead Michael Aviles into Haverstraw


Town Court on Monday. Aviles was charged with
second-degree murder in the death of his 5-month-

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be held at 11 a.m. at St. Catherine AME Zion Church,


Father charged in tot's death 19 Lincoln Ave., New Rochelle, following calling
has history of abuse, other hours there starting at 10 a.m. He will be buried at
Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale.
crimes
Richard "Ricky" Leak, 30, is being held without bail
at the county jail.
NEW ROCHELLE — A city man accused of killing his
toddler son previously served time for beating up The Westchester Medical Examiner's Office found
the mother of another son, according to court that Khalil had a fracture to the back of the head and
records. several broken ribs, which police believe were the
result of his father slamming him against a hard
Richard Leak's most serious prior legal troubles surface.
date to a three-week period between December 2005
and January 2006. On Dec. 26, 2005, he and
another man beat up the woman in New Rochelle, On Saturday night, the boy's mother, K'Daya Ravizee,
causing injuries to her lungs and broken ribs, while had taken her other son, Kaiden, to Sound Shore
the little boy looked on. Medical Center in New Rochelle with respiratory
problems. While she was there, Leak called from
As the other man choked the mother, Leak told him home to say Khalil was also having trouble
to "get her, slap (her)," records state. breathing, police said.

Three days later, Leak bought more than $800 worth The mother called a baby sitter who lives in the
of merchandise with three credit cards that did not same building, 345 Main St. She went to their
belong to him. apartment to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation
on the boy and called 911 at 1:15 a.m. Sunday,
Then, on Jan. 4, 2006, the ex-girlfriend got an police said.
order of protection against him.
Khalil was then taken to the hospital and
She later told police that he repeatedly called her on pronounced dead at 2 a.m.
her cell phone and at work for the next two weeks in
violation of the court order, demanding to see their The Westchester Department of Social Services
son and threatening to hurt her. removed Khalil from the home in early 2009 after
the boy was treated at the hospital for brain, rib and
Leak was arrested in mid January and eventually leg injuries.
charged in all three cases.
He stayed with a relative while an investigation
He pleaded guilty later that year to second-degree
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assault, fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen
property and criminal contempt, and was given two
consecutive one-year jail terms.

He could have faced up to seven years for the


assault. Instead, he was in the county jail from his
arrest in January 2006 until April 2007.

Between January 2000 and December 2005, Leak


served seven different stints in the county jail
following probation violations and arrests for
assault, burglary, petty larceny and other charges.

He was arrested Wednesday night and charged with


second-degree murder in Sunday's death of Khalil
Leak.

The boy will be laid to rest today. The funeral will

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proceeded.

This past June, Family Court Judge Kathie Davidson


returned Khalil to his parents, finding that the
county had not proven its case that he had been
abused and that the injuries he incurred were just
as likely to have been caused by underlying medical
conditions.

Davidson has made no public comments on the


boy's death, though David Bookstaver, spokesman f
or the state Office of Court Administration, said,
"The judge, like so many others involved in this
case, is heartbroken over the death of young Khalil."

Staff writer Rebecca Baker contributed to this


report.

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Richard Leak

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