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Former Davenport student athlete sentenced in tearful hearing, other student recovering home from hospital

Posted at 6:23 PM, Jan 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-12 18:23:38-05

KENTWOOD, Mich. – A former Davenport University student and rugby player was sentenced to probation and jail time after he admitted to punching another student athlete once, which hospitalized that student for weeks.

Thomas Davona, 22, was charged with misdemeanor aggravated assault last October. Tuesday at the Kentwood Justice Center District Court, Judge William Kelly sentenced Davona to 24 months’ probation; 60 days in jail, with 251 days suspended unless Davona violates probation again; and court fees plus $5,086 in restitution to the victim, Michael Gessler.

Gessler, 19, Davenport University sophomore and hockey player, is recovering after spending weeks in intensive care after he was “sucker punched” by Davona, whom he said he did not know. Gessler suffered several skull fractures and severe brain bleeding, his family said.

Before sentencing, Gessler was clearly shaken up in court when he began to read his statement to Judge Kelly.

“I was a victim of this senseless crime,” Gessler said before his teammate continued to read his statement for him.

“Basically what I can say is I started my 2015 sophomore year as a scholar athlete and now I have both hockey and school taken away from me, and all for what? Please take into consideration all of my rehabilitation, pain, and future issues,” Gessler’s hockey teammate read.

Gessler is a defenseman for the Davenport University Hockey team who just returned to school this semester.

Oct. 12, 2015 court documents show Gessler and Davona were at an off-campus party at the home where Davona lived. Records show Davona walked up to Gessler, punched him in the face, and then left him lying unconscious in the roadway.

Davona was charged with misdemeanor aggravated assault, but the Gesslers said they wanted a felony charge and harsher punishment.

“I’m very disappointed in how our criminal justice system operated in this event,” said Jim Gessler, Michael’s father.

“Instead of enjoying school and hockey, my son has continuous headaches, no sense of smell or taste, and has trouble focusing on one thing at a time. He lost over 25 pounds in two week time while he was in the hospital,” he said.

This sentencing sparked tears from all parties, even Judge Kelly who shared a personal story. Judge Kelly expressed understanding to the Gesslers when he shared an emotional story of his sister, who was working at nurse at Palo Alto Stanford Medical Center, and on her drive home from work nearly 15 years ago was hit head-on by a wrong-way driver and hospitalized.

“There’s sometimes very tragic instances that come about, and the criminal law cannot take all that into account,” said Judge Kelly said after he explained that this driver, who was from Australia and accustomed to driving on the other side of the road, was not charged.

The court was unable to hear directly from Davona Tuesday, whose attorney advised him to remain silent due to a possible lawsuit. However, his Defense Attorney Andrew Rodenhouse showed a check Davona made out to the court for $1,125, then shared Davona’s intent to pay Gessler's full restitution.

“You can see that Mr. Davona really took the initiative to put that money together,” said Rodenhouse. “I think he, through pre-sentence report, has demonstrated just how bad he feels for Mr. Gessler.”

Meanwhile, Gessler has returned to school with the hopes of maintaining his grades and to one day play hockey again. He said he would be cleared to be play hockey by September 2016 at the earliest.

“It’s an eye opener,” said Gessler. “I hope I get good grades, I hope it doesn’t affect my school.”

“It won’t, you’ll fight through it,” his father assured.

Davenport University officials would not comment any further on this case, but told FOX 17 Davona is no longer at the university.