Crime

Davis gets life in prison

A jury recommended convicted murderer Clifford Davis be sentenced to life in prison in the late 2005 deaths of two family members.

It took the three-man, nine-woman jury about an hour-and-a-half to make their findings.

Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith then immediately sentenced 23-year-old Davis to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Evidence and testimony during the almost three-week trial showed that on Dec. 4, 2005, Davis strangled his mother Stephanie Davis, and sexually assaulted her dead body inside the Wares Creek home he shared with her. After that, he lured his 77-year-old grandfather Joel Hill to the same apartment where he stabbed him, strangled him, then stole firearms from him. Jurors on Wednesday discounted an insanity defense and found Davis guilty on charges of two counts of first-degree murder, abuse of a dead body and grand theft of a firearm.

The three-man, nine-woman jury’s finding serves only as a recommendation for Circuit Judge Gilbert Smith who presided over the trial, but he must give the jury's verdict great weight when he formally sentences Davis.

Calling the last moments of their lives planned-out moments of suffering and agony, Assistant State Attorney Art Brown asked the jury to recommend Davis be put to death by lethal injection. His actions, Brown said, were based on greed and hatred.

“ 'This is how you die’ he told his mother as he choked the life out of her,” Brown said refreshing jurors on some of the testimony presented prior to the trial’s penalty phase.

Davis initially stabbed his grandfather but he didn’t think it was killing him so he decided to strangle him, evidence showed. During the choking, he stopped for a brief moment and watched his grandfather attempt to struggle. But Hill was too weak to fight back, so Davis returned to choking him until he died.

During trial testimony Brown told jurors Davis hated his mother because he believed she had abandoned him as a child. And instead of spending time with him, Davis harbored anger that she worked two jobs and drank alcohol, according to Brown.

“He did this as revenge for whatever feelings he had of her failings as a parent, not because he was insane,” Brown had said.

In the days before their deaths, Davis made an audio recording saying he planned to kill his mother and grandfather.

“The words are emblazoned in the memory of anyone who has been in this courtroom,” Brown said of the recording.

But Assistant Public Defender Carolyn Schlemmer had argued for a life sentence for her client, telling jurors that justice was served with their verdict. Factors including her client’s reported mental disorders and childhood emotional abuse warranted, she said.

“He suffered from feelings of abandonment and neglect,” Schlemmer said. “His parents told Clifford he was a mistake, that he never should have been born, and you should consider that.”

She also reminded jurors that doctors testified Davis suffered from bipolar disorder and personality disorder. Over the years her client descended into insanity, suffered from hallucinations and lost reality in a series of video games and characters, she added.

Davis did not take the stand in his own defense during the trial or punishment phase.

Earlier today jurors listened to witnesses testify about how they know Davis and how the slayings have affected them.

Defense witnesses, including his father and one half sister and half brother, painted a picture of Davis’ adolescent life growing up in Seabrook, Texas.

His father, Bill Davis, 71, said he divorced his son’s mother, Stephanie Davis, in 1988, and recalled his son as a young boy who fished and played video games but at the same time was a troubled boy who at age 15, attempted suicide.

His half sister Bonnie Springer testified her brother was a recluse with a vivid imagination.

“Cliff was always different, he was just withdrawn, quiet, a little odd,” said Springer, 44, who lives in Texas. “He liked just weird stuff, medieval and fantasy off-the-wall stuff.”

But he also displayed symptoms of depression growing up. She cried as she told jurors that she always thought he’d end his life, even when he was a boy.

“He was just always sad,” said Springer.

Davis, who sat at the defendant’s table, began to cry.

His half brother, Brad Davis, of Seabrook, Texas, said he didn’t spend much time with him, but did know him to be a quiet recluse.

“From what I saw, a lot of times normal, and other times unusual,” he said.

In middle school, Davis was a loner who was sometimes bullied, said Gaylin Winsel, his theater teacher from Seabrook Intermediate School.

“He was referred to as Clifford the big red dog, like the children’s book character,” she said.

Earlier, prosecution witness Nancy Hill told jurors how the loss of her husband and daughter had affected her life.

“We were close to retiring and looking forward to simple pleasures,” she said of her husband of nearly 30 years. “My best friend, lover, spouse will forever more not be a part of my life.”

“For as long as I live, I will never see Stephanie smile or hear her say, ‘Hi mom’ into the phone or person,” she said calling her vibrant and outgoing then broke into tears.

Michael Maher, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense, said Davis was under the influence of an extreme mental disorder at the time of the murders. “This was a very sick kid … in terms of depression and environmental factors,” Maher said.

He said Davis suffered from brain impairment and that he had a long established “unfortunate pattern in his life that began to seriously affect him” starting prior to his teenage years.

Psychologist Mary Kasper said the defendant suffered from borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder at the time of the slayings. She described him as a self-mutilator, who attempted suicide and felt abandoned by his mother.

But prosecution witness John Super, a psychologist, testified Davis was not mentally impaired at the time of the slayings.

“There was no evidence to suggest a significant impairment of thought,” Super said.

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