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PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Davis family testifies in murder trial

BRADENTON — From as young as a 2-year-old, Clifford Davis showed signs of a troubled boy out of touch with reality, several relatives testified Monday.

Members of the Davis family came from Texas to testify on behalf of the man accused of killing his mother, Stephanie Davis, and grandfather, Joel Hill, more than four years ago.

Davis’ attorneys are looking to spare their client the death penalty by convincing a jury that Davis was insane at the time of the killings, seeking a not-guilty verdict by reason of insanity.

“I remember when he was 2, we were on a family trip and he didn’t like what we were doing and he suddenly turned around and spit in my face,” said half-brother James Davis. “It was always like that with him. One minute he was fine, then the next minute he would not even speak to me.”

Other family members testified to a similar pattern of erratic behavior throughout Davis’ life, a pained existence of depression and isolation. Family members have testified that Davis also descended into an obsession with violent video games, at times playing for 18 hours a day.

“Clifford just never really connected with people on an emotional level. There was always a disconnect there. It was just always hard to reach Clifford,” his aunt Carol Anderson testified.

Davis’ attorney, Assistant State Attorney Carolyn Schlemmer, also presented medical professionals who said her client’s behavior was not just strange, but symptomatic of debilitating mental illness.

California psychiatrist Dr. Joseph Wu testified that Davis, 23, suffers from brain abnormalities on a brain scan conducted in 2006 that may have resulted from a psychotic disorder.

During cross-examination, Wu acknowledged to Assistant State Attorney Art Brown that the testing done on Davis’ brain did not provide a definitive diagnosis as to whether he is insane.

In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Davis is also accused of sexually assaulting his mother’s dead body and of robbery. He has admitted in court — outside the presence of the jury — that on Dec. 4, 2005, he killed his mother and grandfather in the Wares Creek apartment he shared with his mother.

Davis’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Carolyn Schlemmer, is expected to finish presenting witnesses as part of her client’s insanity defense Tuesday. Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith said the jury will then begin deliberations, and may be sequestered if the panel cannot make a decision by the end of the night.

If Davis is convicted, a punishment phase would then take place during which jurors will make a recommendation to Smith on whether Davis should be sent to death row. Smith would then make a ruling while giving the jury’s recommendation great weight, according to Florida law.

Smith would decide Davis’ fate should a jury find him not guilty by reason of insanity, which could include a lifetime commitment to a mental hospital.

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