BRADENTON — The reputed confession of a man accused of killing his mother and grandfather in 2005 will not be heard by jurors should the case go to trial.
The Second District Court of Appeal has upheld a Manatee judge’s ruling that Bradenton police detectives violated Clifford Davis’ rights by questioning him before and after reading him his right to remain silent.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Stetson University College of Law Professor Robert Batey, who has reviewed Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan’s initial ruling throwing out Davis’ statements.
Davis in December 2005 admitted to killing his mother, Stephanie Ann Davis, in the Wares Creek apartment where they lived. He told police he went to the mall to shop after killing his mother and having sex with her dead body, according to court documents. Davis then got a ride home from his grandfather, Joel C. Hill, and when the pair walked into the apartment, Davis attacked his grandfather with a knife, used duct tape to bind his ankles, then stood on his neck until he died, according to reports.
Prosecutors have charged Davis with two counts of first-degree murder, sexual abuse of a dead body and robbery. If Davis is convicted, prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.
After police found the bodies, Bradenton detectives William Knight and Greg Price found Davis at a friend’s apartment. Knight searched him and began asking Davis questions after he asked for an attorney.
Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski declined comment Thursday.
“Why would you need an attorney?” Knight asked, according to court documents.
Davis said because “he had done some bad things.”
Batey said at that point Knight violated Davis’ rights and should have allowed him an attorney. For hours, the questioning went on at the police station, wearing Davis down and leading to his confession, Dunnigan ruled.
When Dunnigan threw out the confession, the prosecutor in the case, Assistant State Attorney Art Brown, appealed the ruling, which this month the higher court upheld. Brown declined comment.
The appeals court will now issue a mandate for the circuit court to resume proceedings on the case, according to Davis’ attorney, Carolyn Schlemmer. She declined to comment on the ruling.
Schlemmer said her next step will be to ask the court for a change of venue due to intense media coverage on the case.
Batey said due to the ruling by the Court of Appeal, Schlemmer will look at other evidence in the case that the police obtained based on information they got from Davis’ confession. Police collected DNA evidence from the apartment, but it is unknown what other evidence prosecutors may have.
“The defense will no doubt be scrutinizing every piece of evidence to see if any is the fruit from the poisonous tree, so to speak,” Batey said.
Batey said the state losing the confession is a blow, but that prosecutors will proceed if there is other evidence. Batey said it was routine for the prosecution to appeal Dunnigan’s ruling since Davis is being held in jail without bond.
“A confession is an extremely important piece of evidence, but you can’t read too much into the fact the state appealed as a way to gauge whether they have enough to move forward without it,” said Batey. “In most cases, especially if the defendant is in jail, the state will file an appeal because they have time on their side.”