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Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty Against Arizona Grandma and Husband Accused of ‘Especially Heinous’ Murder of 11-Year-Old

Thomas James Desharnais and Stephanie Marie Davis appear in Maricopa County Sheriff's Office mugshots.

Thomas James Desharnais and Stephanie Marie Davis appear in Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office mugshots.

Prosecutors in Arizona signaled they will seek the death penalty against a grandmother and her husband accused of torturing and murdering her 11-year-old grandson earlier this year.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on Tuesday announced that prosecutors filed a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty against Stephanie M. Davis, 52, and Thomas J. Desharnais, 33, for the “especially heinous” killing of young Chaskah Davis Smith in late January 2022.

A grand jury in February indicted the couple on several felony charges, including one count of first-degree murder, nine counts of child abuse, and one count of tampering with evidence.

“As a community, it is our responsibility to protect and care for the most vulnerable in society, and this includes children. The protection of children has always been a top priority for me.  This child’s suffering and death must be addressed and those responsible held accountable,” County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said in a statement. “Seeking justice for this young boy whose life was cut short in an especially heinous matter is what prosecutors are called to do.”

As previously reported by Law&Crime, officers with the Scottsdale Police Department at approximately 5 p.m. on Jan. 30 responded to a call about an unresponsive child at the Extended Stay America hotel on North Marshall Way. Upon arriving at the scene, first responders reportedly found Davis performing CPR on the boy inside the hotel room. Paramedics took over and reportedly suctioned “a half liter of water” from the Chaskah’s body. Chaskah’s 9-year-old half-brother was in the room, and authorities allegedly observed that the younger boy had “an injury to his face and bruising around his eyes.”

Chaskah was transported to a local hospital. He was pronounced dead approximately two hours after arriving at the facility. The medical staff reportedly told investigators that the boy sustained “significant injuries” that were the likely cause of his death.

Doctors also examined Chaskah’s younger brother and determined the injuries to both children were “severe” and “in various stages of healing and scarring.” Authorities alleged that such injuries are a tell-tale sign of prolonged abuse. Prosecutors say the charges against the couple stem from “events that occurred between August 1, 2019 and January 30, 2022.”

Davis and Desharnais, who lived at the hotel for several years, allegedly provided starkly different accounts of what happened to Chaskah.

According to a report from Phoenix CBS affiliate KTVK, Desharnais told police that Davis regularly abused the boys both physically and mentally and that the abuse became more severe in recent months. He reportedly said that the day before Chaskah’s death, Davis hit him in the head with a metal ratchet four or five times.

Desharnais also reportedly told investigators that his wife regularly starved her grandkids for days, hit them with a wooden broom handle, and made Chaskah sleep in the bathtub several times per week “so that he would not get blood all over the room from his wounds,” the Arizona Republic reported.

Even more disturbing, Desharnais reportedly told investigators that Davis would use needle-nose pliers to torture the boys by pinching their skin and bending their fingers. When searching the room, investigators allegedly recovered needle-nose pliers, a wooden broom handle, and a wrench. Blood was allegedly found on all three of the objects.

“The nature and circumstances of the offense are frankly horrific, involving allegations of torture of children over a prolonged period of time, multiple victims — these are extremely serious crimes,” Prosecuting Attorney John Schneider said during Davis’s initial appearance in court.

Davis allegedly claimed that the bulk of Chaskah’s injuries were self-inflicted, telling authorities that the child had been “hurting himself all day” prior to his death. She allegedly said that Chaskah hit himself in the head with the wrench and cut his genitals with a paring knife, per KTVK. She also reportedly claimed that she left Chaskah alone in the tub for between one and 15 minutes, only to return and find him not breathing.

[images via Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.