Right to Speedy Verdict from Mindless Racist Suspects in Racist System. From [HERE] and [HERE] Kharon Davis spent a decade in jail awaiting trial. On Friday, an all white jury in this southern Alabama town deliberated less than three hours before finding him guilty in the fatal shooting of Peter Dwayne Reaves.
In a racially charged case raising questions of prosecutorial overcharging, inadequate representation, and questionable jury practices, Davis, charged with capital murder had been imprisoned for 10 years without trial.
Mr. Davis, 33, is black, but the jury was all white, in a county with a long history of striking blacks from juries. Jury selection took place on Monday and Tuesday, and Mr. Davis’s lawyers complained to the judge about the racial makeup of the jury, unsuccessfully arguing that a new pool be assembled.
Mr. Davis was one of three men charged in Mr. Reaves’s death. One of the others, Lorenzo Stacey, was acquitted. The third, Kevin Bernard McCloud, took a plea bargain in which he agreed to plead guilty and testify against Mr. Davis, a childhood friend, if prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. He is serving a 99-year sentence.
The three men had gone to Mr. Reaves’s apartment on a night in June 2007 looking to buy marijuana. But the deal quickly turned into a shooting. Mr. McCloud was wounded and Mr. Reaves was killed.
The prosecution was forced to make a largely circumstantial case against Mr. Davis, who they said fired the gun. None of Mr. Davis’s DNA was found in Mr. Reaves’s home, where the shooting took place. There were no fingerprints on the stolen 9-millimeter handgun that was used in the murder. And there were no witnesses who saw Mr. Davis shoot Mr. Reaves.
What’s more, extensive delays can erode any case, as memories falter and witnesses disappear or die. In this case, two key witnesses for the prosecution, including Mr. McCloud, changed their stories.
They stunned the courtroom by testifying that they had lied years ago to authorities about the case.
One, Larry Thompson, appeared on Thursday in an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and leg chains. He is serving a 20-year sentence for an unrelated crime. After briefly testifying, he abruptly refused to continue, saying he feared for his life.
Mr. Thompson was a child at the time of Mr. Reaves’s death, and was supposed to help bolster the prosecution’s theory that the men had planned to rob Mr. Reaves from the beginning.
In the 2009 trial of Mr. Stacey, Mr. Thompson testified that he saw three men wrestling with Mr. Reaves, and that they pulled him back into the apartment after he tried to flee. He also testified that he heard Mr. Reaves yelling, “You are killing me! You are killing me!” after he heard the gunshots.
But this week, he denied that account.
“That was a lie,” Mr. Thompson testified on Thursday, adding that he saw only two men fighting with Mr. Reaves. “I don’t want to commit perjury. I’ve been doing it for so long.”
He added: “I was scared for my life, and I am scared for my life today, your Honor. Just take me back to prison. I am not testifying.”
But it was the second main witness, Mr. McCloud, who stood to do the most damage to the prosecution’s case.
In the hours after the shooting, Mr. McCloud gave the police conflicting accounts of what happened when Mr. Reaves was killed, ultimately suggesting that Mr. Davis had stormed into Mr. Reaves’s home and started shooting.
But on Thursday, Mr. McCloud changed his story again, telling the jury that Mr. Davis had waited in the car while he went in to buy drugs. That was also Mr. Davis’s account, according to his lawyers.
After the shooting, Mr. McCloud told Frank Meredith, a Dothan police officer, that he had just stepped into Mr. Reaves’s apartment when he heard Mr. Davis yell an order to get down and felt a pain in the back of his neck before losing consciousness. Mr. McCloud had been shot by a bullet that passed through him and struck Mr. Reaves.
Mr. McCloud testified Thursday that he implicated Mr. Davis then because Mr. Meredith threatened and coerced him, using a racial slur. He added that the police officer had pushed the idea that Mr. Davis did the shooting.
“He was putting words in my mouth,” Mr. McCloud testified. “So, to get out of there, I just went along with what he said.”
On the stand, Mr. Meredith firmly denied Mr. McCloud’s account.
A distant relative of Mr. Davis’s, who owned the gun used in the shooting, testified that she had noticed it missing from under her bedroom mattress about three weeks before the shooting, when she hosted a cookout that Mr. Davis attended. She said that he had entered her bedroom at one point, to use the bathroom there.
The defense called no witnesses. “Not one piece of forensic evidence connects Kharon Davis with being in that apartment,” one of Mr. Davis’s lawyers, Thomas M. Goggans, said, referring to Mr. Reaves’s home. “There are unanswered questions and doubts throughout.”
Prosecutors had initially sought the death penalty in Mr. Davis’s case, but in January a new district attorney took office who had a conflict of interest: He had previously represented one of the other two men charged in the murder.
The state attorney general’s office took over the case and dropped pursuit of the death penalty.
Mr. Davis was still tried for capital murder, but found guilty of a lesser charge, felony murder, which carries a sentence of 20 years to life. Circuit Court Judge Kevin Moulton had instructed the jury to consider the lesser charge if they could not reach unanimity about capital murder.
Davis—who has consistently maintained his innocence and whose prior offense was driving without a license—was 22 years old when he and two others were arrested for the shooting death of a man from whom they were purchasing marijuana.
After refusing a plea deal, Davis’s case has gone through two judges, three prosecutors, four sets of defense lawyers, and nine scheduled trial dates, and he has been placed in segregation in the county jail for minor infractions, faced restrictions on his ability to review legal documents, and been denied visits by his mother.
A New York Times report described the pre-trial delays as “among the most protracted” the paper could find, and George Washington University law professor and constitutional consultant Jonathan Turley said “It is impossible to look at [the case] and not find it deeply, deeply troubling.”
Houston County’s District Attorney Doug Valeska’s decision to seek the death penalty reignited questions of the county’s overuse of the death penalty. Despite a population of only 103,000, its 17-person death row makes Houston County one of the most prolific death-sentencing counties in the country. The county’s prosecutorial and law enforcement practices have also come under scrutiny: a number of capital cases have been overturned for racially biased jury selection, presenting improper evidence, and improper comments to juries.
In 2015, Valeska also was accused of covering up evidence that a group of Dothan police officers with ties to white supremacist groups had been planting drugs on young black men.
Davis’s case has been rife with questionable activity. His first lawyer, Benjamin Meredith, was the father of one of the investigating officers in the case and cross-examined his son in the preliminary hearing. That conflict was not disclosed for four years, after a new judge was appointed in the case, when Valeska brought it to the attention of the court. In those four years, Meredith had filed only two motions on Davis’s behalf. In that same time, Davis’s co-defendant, Lorenzo Staley, who told police where to find the gun used in the murder, went to trial in 2009 and was acquitted. A second co-defendant, Kevin McCloud—a childhood friend of Davis’s who had no criminal record—had pled guilty and agreed to testify against Davis to avoid the death penalty, although McCloud later said in a letter that Valeska had asked him to “get on the stand and lie” about Davis’s involvement in the case.
The case was further delayed when, looking through the court record of Staley’s trial, new defense counsel discovered a gunshot residue kit that prosecutors had failed to disclose. A new district attorney who had once represented one of the co-defendants was elected in February 2017, requiring the case to be transferred to the attorney general’s office. At that point, the prosecution dropped the death penalty from the case.