A judge has overturned the death penalty sentence of Christopher Davis, convicted of murdering two men in February 1996, and granted him a new sentencing hearing.
Judge J. Randall Wyatt Jr. found in his review of the petition for relief from conviction or sentence that a previous conviction may have harmed Davis’ chances of a fair sentence in a subsequent case.
Wyatt wrote that while there wasn’t enough proof to overturn Davis’ convictions, the death sentence should be overturned and a new sentencing hearing set.
Davis was found guilty in July 2000 of killing Gregory Ewing and D’Angelo Lee. He was convicted on two counts of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder (which were merged into the first two counts), two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping and two counts of especially aggravated robbery.
In the petition, a laundry list of more than 40 claims filed by Davis’ attorney Matt Sweeney included questions raised over deficient representation by Davis’ previous attorneys, questionable character and testimony of witness Antonio Cartwright, problems with due process, ineffective use of expert witnesses, etc.
But the claim Wyatt found merit with asserts that a prior first-degree murder conviction in the case of 12-year-old Adrian Dickerson, which was later removed, may have influenced the jury’s decision on Davis’ death sentence in the double murder case.
In his order filed Tuesday, Wyatt wrote, “The mere reference to another first degree murder, by its very nature, likely left a lasting impression on the jury at sentencing.”
The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed both Davis’ convictions and sentences in 2003, as did the state Supreme Court in 2004.
Davis was scheduled to be executed March 15, 2005. He had been convicted in the 1995 murder of 12-year-old Adriane Dickerson in a random gang shooting that raised the specter of gang violence in a then-slower-paced Music City. Davis was later exonerated in that case following his convictions in the Ewing and Lee cases.
Sweeney, one of three attorneys from the Nashville office of the Baker Donelson law firm appointed by the court to represent Davis, declined to comment on the case, as it is ongoing.