Topeka man whose gun was used in teen's death to be tried for first-degree murder

·3 min read
DeJuan Yelverton will stand trial for murder after a toddler accidentally killed 13-year-old DaMya Hudnall, pictured, using a loaded gun Yelverton had left unattended in June 2021.
DeJuan Yelverton will stand trial for murder after a toddler accidentally killed 13-year-old DaMya Hudnall, pictured, using a loaded gun Yelverton had left unattended in June 2021.

A man accused of leaving a gun out that a toddler used to accidentally kill a teenaged girl in June will be tried for murder.

DeJuan Yelverton, of Topeka, will stand trial for first-degree murder and aggravated endangering of a child after Shawnee County District Judge David Debenham on Monday found prosecutors had enough probable cause to proceed with a trial against Yelverton.

Yelverton waived a formal arraignment at Monday’s preliminary hearing and pled not guilty to the two counts, while pleading guilty to a third count of criminal possession of a weapon by a felon, court records show.

More: DA charges owner of gun after toddlers used it to accidentally shoot teen DaMya Hudnall

Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay in June filed the first-degree murder charge against Yelverton after he allegedly left a gun he owned hanging off of the top of a refrigerator. A toddler later got a hold of the loaded gun and accidentally shot DaMya Hudnall, 13, in the head.

Kansas' first-degree murder law includes deaths that happen during the commission, attempt or escape from any "inherently dangerous felony," including aggravated child endangerment.

Hudnall died just a few days after the shooting, but lived long enough to donate five of her organs. About 100 people attended a candlelight vigil and released balloons in honor of Hudnall, who would have been an eighth grader this school year.

Yelverton, who is free on a $100,000 bond, is represented by Shawna Miller. A jury trial is scheduled for July 25, with a preliminary hearing in June. Sentencing for the criminal possession of a weapon charge is pending the murder trial.

'I just want closure'

After Monday's preliminary hearing, DaMya's mother, Tara Williams, was one of five witnesses at Monday's preliminary hearing.

She told The Capital-Journal that Yelverton is like a son to her but also someone who made a careless choice.

"For DeJuan to leave a firearm laying around like that was very careless, and probation or anything like that (for him), I just can't accept," she said. "I just want my baby to be able to get the justice she deserves."

Not a day goes by that Williams doesn't think about her daughter, she said. She hasn't worked in the eight months since the accident, although she's preparing to start a new certified nursing assistant job in the next few weeks.

It's a small step to making as best of a new normal as she can for her family, Williams said.

"We're trying to put the pieces back together," she said. "Things will never be normal again, but you try. ... It feels like the more this drags on, it feels harder to move on. I just want to put this past our family, and I want our baby to rest."

Williams wants people to remember DeMya as the loving, thoughtful and helpful 13-year-old she was. And once she's more fully processed her grief, Williams wants to advocate for gun safety and to help other grieving parents.

For now, though, she hopes the judicial process plays out quickly.

"I just want closure for my daughter."

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Topeka man to stand trial for DaMya Hudnall's fatal shooting

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