Af­ter decade in jail, mur­der sus­pect still await­ing his trial

New pros­e­cu­tors, fourth de­fense team on case.

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD - By Kim Chan­dler

Kharon Davis has spent nearly 10 years in jail. He has had four sets of at­tor­neys, with two judges on the bench. His co-de­fen­dants’ cases have wrapped up. Davis has ap­peared in court for sev­eral hear­ings, and new pros­e­cu­tors are as­signed.

But Davis has had no trial. There has been no jury, no ver­dict, no con­vic­tion. Po­lice say he killed a man in a drug deal gone wrong, but he hasn’t had his day in court. He’s charged with cap­i­tal mur­der and could face the death penalty. Trial dates have come and gone, and it’s now sched­uled for Septem­ber. By then, 10 years and three months will have passed since the crime.

The Con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees sus­pects “the right to a speedy trial.” Cap­i­tal cases of­ten take a year or longer to get to trial, but 10 years is rare — ex­perts call it shock­ing and say it could be un­con­sti­tu­tional. Pris­oner ad­vo­cates and court-watch­ers say such de­lays take an ex­haus­tive toll on sus­pects stuck be­hind bars and on vic­tims’ fam­i­lies, who are robbed of clo­sure that can come from tri­als.

Davis’ mother says her son is in­no­cent but hasn’t had the chance to prove it in court, and his health is suf­fer­ing be­cause of the long stretch in jail.

“It’s like they snatched up my child, put him in a cage and threw away the key,” Chrycyn­thia Ward Davis said.

Po­lice say Kharon Davis, then 22, shot 29-year-old Pete Reaves in­side his apart­ment on June 9, 2007. Davis and two friends had gone to the apart­ment com­plex to buy mar­i­juana from some­one else, pros­e­cu­tors say in court records. But that per­son wasn’t home, so the group went into Reaves’ apart­ment, en­ter­ing through an open door, and tried to rob him of money and drugs. That’s when Davis shot him, the records say.

Davis and his friends, Kevin McCloud and Lorenzo Stacey, were charged with cap­i­tal mur­der. Stacey went to trial in 2009 and was ac­quit­ted; his lawyer sug­gested Davis pulled the trig­ger while Stacey was out­side, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia re­ports at the time. Two years later, McCloud pleaded guilty to a lesser mur­der charge, avoid­ing the death penalty and re­ceiv­ing a 99-year prison sen­tence.

That leaves Davis. He’s held with­out bond — typ­i­cal in cap­i­tal cases.

As Davis waits, so does the fam­ily of Pete Reaves.

“I want jus­tice for my par­ents, for my fam­ily,” said his brother Alvin. “Ev­ery time it gets set back, it’s taken a big toll on them.”

De­lay called shock­ing

A cap­i­tal case gen­er­ally takes a year or two from ar­rest to sen­tence, said Steve Bright from the South­ern Cen­ter for Hu­man Rights — and 10 years is the long­est wait he’s ever seen.

Richard Jaffe, a de­fense lawyer and au­thor of “Quest for Jus­tice: De­fend­ing the Damned,” called the de­lay shock­ing.

“If this were a wealthy per­son, there’s no way it would have taken 10 years to get to trial,” he said.

Lawyers — and Davis has had many — can be the crux of the timetable.

His mother first hired Ben­jamin Mered­ith, who rep­re­sented her in a law­suit af­ter she was hit by an 18-wheeler. Chrycyn­thia Ward Davis said she trusted him, but she emp­tied her sav­ings ac­count pay­ing the bills. When the money was gone, Mered­ith asked to be­come Davis’ court-ap­pointed lawyer.

Years had passed, but the case had none of the de­fense fil­ings typ­i­cal for cap­i­tal mur­der charges — only sim­ple mo­tions for bond and a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing. Judge Kevin Moul­ton took Mered­ith off the case com­pletely be­cause his son, a po­lice of­fi­cer, had in­ves­ti­gated the shoot­ing.

Derek Yar­brough was ap­pointed Davis’ at­tor­ney. As Yar­brough put it, it was ba­si­cally start­ing over.

Yar­brough had another cap­i­tal case ahead of Davis’. But he worked for his new client, hir­ing a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor, push­ing to take the death penalty off the ta­ble and press­ing pros­e­cu­tors for in­for­ma­tion. Trial was sched­uled for 2014, then 2015, then 2016.

Frus­trated, Davis stopped talk­ing to Yar­brough and asked that he be dis­missed — even though the judge warned him it could de­lay his case fur­ther.

In an in­ter­view, Yar­brough ad­mit­ted the case has gone on for a long time. “There’s no doubt,” he said. But he said mount­ing a vig­or­ous de­fense was time-con­sum­ing.

Davis’ next at­tor­ney with­drew af­ter only a few weeks, cit­ing a con­flict of in­ter­est.

The fourth and cur­rent lead lawyer, Tommy Gog­gans, was ap­pointed in June.

He’ll face new pros­e­cu­tors. Long­time Dis­trict At­tor­ney Doug Valeska left of­fice in Jan­uary, but his suc­ces­sor, Pat Jones, asked to step aside be­cause he rep­re­sented one of Davis’ friends in the shoot­ing. He wouldn’t dis­cuss the case. The state as­signed pros­e­cu­tors Ken­neth Gibbs and Stephanie Billingslea last month; they wouldn’t com­ment. Judge Moul­ton didn’t re­turn a tele­phone mes­sage about the case.

The case’s first judge, Sid­ney Jack­son, re­tired in 2010 and said via phone that he didn’t re­call many of its de­tails. Valeska didn’t re­turn mes­sages. Nei­ther did Davis’ first lawyer, Mered­ith.

Davis’ cur­rent lawyer wouldn’t talk, ei­ther. He said he doesn’t com­ment on pend­ing cases and couldn’t put a re­porter in touch with Davis.

Still no re­lief

To­day, Kharon Davis spends 23 hours a day in his cell at the county jail. He has been kept in dis­ci­plinary seg­re­ga­tion since 2014 for fight­ing and for hav­ing con­tra­band — in­clud­ing a sweat­shirt, a book, pornog­ra­phy and hair cream. He’s al­lowed vis­i­ta­tion only from clergy and his lawyers. He hasn’t seen his mother in more than a year.

This seg­re­ga­tion is dif­fer­ent than soli­tary con­fine­ment; Davis is in a cell with other in­mates. Dur­ing the one hour a day they are al­lowed out of the cell, they can shower and ex­er­cise, jail com­man­der Capt. Keith Reed said. Reed said Davis would not be al­lowed to speak with a re­porter and Davis did not re­spond to a let­ter.

Davis has enough write­ups to re­main in dis­ci­plinary seg­re­ga­tion un­til April 2020, Reed said. Be­cause he has had mul­ti­ple vi­o­la­tions, each piece of con­tra­band or in­frac­tion means 30 ad­di­tional days.

In Oc­to­ber, Davis hand­wrote a re­quest to be re­turned to the jail’s gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, de­scrib­ing seg­re­ga­tion as “no phone calls, no vis­i­ta­tion, no tele­vi­sion, no sun­light nor fresh air.” He sent the re­quest to his mother, but it hasn’t been filed in court.

“Since be­ing con­fined and for­got­ten for so long, the de­fen­dant has reached a state of stress and de­pres­sion from miss­ing fam­ily vis­its and voice com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and had been com­pelled to tak­ing med­i­ca­tions,” Davis wrote.

Four miles from the jail, at Chrycyn­thia Ward Davis’ small brick house where she lives with her mother, a cor­ner is piled high with Christ­mas presents she hopes to one day give her son. In another cor­ner are pho­tos of Kharon Davis as a child, grin­ning in a white but­ton-down next to a Bi­ble verse: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ de­clares the Lord.”

“He will say he is fine to keep me from wor­ry­ing, but he is men­tally torn down,” his mother said.

But Reaves’ fam­ily says she, at least, knows her son is alive — some­thing they’ll never have for Reaves, the fun-lov­ing, peace­maker mid­dle child in a fam­ily of seven.

His brother Mal­comb said he un­der­stands it’s wrong for Davis to wait a decade to see trial, but it’s also “wrong for my brother to be dead.”

BRYNN AN­DER­SON / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Chrycyn­thia Ward Davis, mother of Kharon Davis, shows a poster she made for her son at her home in Dothan, Ala. Kharon was 22 when he was ar­rested on a cap­i­tal mur­der charge in 2007. He has spent nearly one-third of his life held with­out bond in the county jail, await­ing trial.

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