MEMPHIS, TN, 7/24/12 — A Shelby County jury deliberated for seven hours Saturday before returning a unanimous verdict of “not guilty” on all counts in Ealrode Davis’ first degree murder and attempted first degree murder trial. Davis faced a sentence of death by lethal injection if convicted of the murder charge. He was represented by Gerald Skahan and the Capital Defense Team of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office.
After the verdict, Davis was released from the Shelby County Jail where he had been held since his arrest in 2009. He left the 201 Poplar Avenue facility Saturday evening just a few hours after the jury returned its verdict, and Judge Christopher Craft ordered the 42-year old released.
“We are relieved that Mr. Davis no longer faces the threat of execution for what the jury rightly determined was an argument that ended tragically,” Gerald Skahan said Monday. “These cases are always difficult for both sides, but now Ealrode has a chance to build a new life for himself. We wish him all the best.”
In addition to team leader Gerald Skahan, assistant public defenders Kindle Nance and Rob Gowen helped prepare the case, which included significant mitigation evidence that would have been presented in the event Davis was convicted of the capital offense. Tavier Crumes served as the mitigation investigator, and Fred Tappan served as investigator for the guilt phase of the trial.
The charges and trial stemmed from the 2009 killing of James Donley during an argument. Davis had recently ended a relationship with Donley’s daughter, Tasha Donley. The alleged victim of the attempted murder charge was Markius Howard, Ms. Donley’s new boyfriend, who was also involved in the argument but did not suffer serious injury.
Davis argued that he was acting in self defense and after the proof, including Davis’ own testimony, Judge Craft instructed the jury on the elements of self defense. Under Tennessee law, once self defense is raised, the prosecution must prove that the defendant’s actions were NOT in self defense. In Davis’ case, the jury disagreed with the prosecution and found that he did, in fact, act in self defense. He was acquitted of both charges, including the first degree murder charge that could have led to his execution.
There are currently 88 people on death row in Tennessee. The state has executed six since the death penalty was reinstated in 1974. Tennessee became the last Southern state to resume executions in the modern era when it killed Robert Glen Coe in 2000. Tennessee’s most recent execution took place on December 2, 2009, when the state killed Cecil Johnson by lethal injection.