Family of mother and daughter killed in house fire disappointed with plea deal

HEARNE, Tex. (KBTX) - Members of one Robertson County family says they're disappointed with the outcome of a criminal case involving a fire that killed a mother and her child.

Monday William Davenport, 47, pleaded guilty to two charges of arson in exchange for two 20 year sentences served at the same time.

"I didn't get justice," said Margie Vinton. Margie is the mother of 35-year-old Wanda Vinton, one of the victims killed in the fire. "He took everything from me and my son."

Vinton says there is not a day that goes by that she doesn't think about Wanda and her 15-year-old granddaughter, Cheyenne. The mother and daughter died in a house fire on January 15, 2015 in Hearne.

"He took my only daughter and he took my only grandchild," said Vinton. "He's getting away with it, and I don't think that's right."

The family was preparing to face Davenport in court next Tuesday at trial, but say they felt blindsided when the district attorney said a plea deal was made.

County and District Attorney Coty Siegert says the immediate family was involved in all phases of the case. However, Cheyenne's father, James Lewis, says he's disappointed with the sentence.

"Twenty years for murdering two people," asked Lewis. "He pleaded guilty to both charges, but they did not charge him with murder. They only charged him with arson."

In a statement to KBTX, Siegert stood by the charges brought against Davenport.

"William Davenport was charged with 2 cases of Arson resulting in the deaths of Wanda and Cheyanne Vinton. The immediate family was included in all phases of this case from beginning to end. I understand this was a very tragic situation and I am sympathetic to the family's feelings. In discussions with the family, it was clear that they wanted Davenport's death. I endeavored to explain that this was not a death penalty case and no amount of time would make them feel good about their loss. As such, I worked to ensure that the family would have closure in seeing 47-year-old William Davenport take responsibility for his actions and be sentenced for a period of 20 years in each case. Based on the nature of Arson cases generally and this case, in particular, a 20-year sentence is a positive outcome in a very sad event. Nevertheless, I understand why the family would not be happy given the fact that no amount of prison will return their loved ones. My continued prayers go out to them."

The family believes there would have been a different outcome if the case had gone to trial.

KBTX legal analyst Shane Phelps says it's hard to say.
"Prosecutors are concerned that the investigation, or the way it was done, may interfere with the jury's ability to find somebody guilty," said Phelps. "Do I want to risk going to trial and having the investigation attacked, and ultimately the jury saying not guilty, or do I want the sure thing, where I've got someone standing up in court admitting they are guilty and going off to prison for some amount of time."

For the families of Wanda and Cheyenne, the pain is still raw.

"He's still living. He still sees his kids," said Vinton. "He still eats. He still breathes. My kids are six foot under the ground because of him."

Davenport was sentenced to 20 years for each charge of arson. Those sentences will be served at the same time. He could be eligible for parole after five years.