After decade in jail, murder suspect still awaiting his trial
New prosecutors, fourth defense team on case.
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.”
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.