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Circus? What Circus?
October 4, 2008 - Joe Gorman
No matter what Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum said last week about doing everything in his power to keep a death penalty case in his court from becoming a circus, he may have his work cut out for him.
That's because the case in his courtroom is just one of two capital cases slated to take place at the same time, and there will be reporters and photographers tripping each over each other (this one included) to run from courtroom to courtroom to cover as much of them as possible.
Krichbaum is hearing the case against Michael Davis, the 18-year-old Bennington Avenue man accused of setting a fire that killed six people in his East Side neighborhood in January. As if the fact that the crime is the worst mass murder in the city's sometimes bloody history isn't enough, if convicted and sentenced to death, he may be one of the youngest death row inmates in the state, and he certainly will be the youngest ever sentenced to death in Mahoning County.
Two floors up in the courtroom of Judge Tim Franken will be the case against Bennie Adams, who is accused of the Dec. 30 1985 murder of a YSU coed whose body was found floating in the Mahoning River. Police didn't make the arrest until last October thanks to help from a BCI cold case policy and former attorney general Marc Dann, although Davis was a suspect from the beginning.
After Davis was arrested it was thought attorneys would ask for a change of venue because of the publicity, but that hasn't happened and I don't think Krichbaum would have granted it anyway. The publicity has died down since the funeral and it received as much pub as the man who was arrested and ultimately convicted and sentenced for killing a Youngstown Police Officer in 2003, and a jury was able to seated for that trial. Krichbaum presided over that case, too.
Some of the highlights of the Davis trial should be:
-- The YFD arson investigators. They zeroed in on Davis as a suspect instantly, and although they said it was because of a fire set in the neighborhood weeks earlier, there may be other reasons. Their insight should be fascinating.
-- Survivors of the fire. This is great not just for the human interest, but they may be able to shed light on the Davis-Crawford feud that word on the street says is responsible for the fire.
-- Detectives who interviewed Davis. They are the link to what he said and how he acted in the hours after the fire was set.
-- Davis himself, if he testifies. What was going through his mind? What kind of alibi could he produce?
Davis at times still has that deer in the headlights look, which could save his life if he's convicted and the case goes to mitigation. He could try and convince a jury that he just didn't think out his actions and he is too young to pay the ultimate price for his terrible mistake. Then again, that could backfire if they think they can not condemn the man to spend at least the next 60 years in prison, so death might be a better fate.
In the Adams case, the detectives who had Adams as a suspect 23 years ago will be the star witnesses. How did he act then? How was he when they arrested him now? This will be a case based on DNA, and while it's important, scientific testimony can be a snoozer.
Adams has had several brushes with the law, and I'm sure his lawyers would not like to take a chance with that record if he is convicted and the case goes to mitigation.
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