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1994 murder case reopened

January 26, 2001

1994 murder case reopened



By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer


Applying new technology to old evidence has led to the reopening of the 1994 murder case of Donald and Wilda Davis and the recharging of Russell Wayne Wagner with the slayings.

Wagner, now 48, stood trial for the murders in 1996, but a Garrett County Circuit Court jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Wagner was freed, and the prosecution didn't have enough new evidence to justify retrying the case.

Western Maryland Crime Lab forensic chemist Susan Blankenship explained Friday that current DNA profiling is much more exact than it was in 1994 or even in 1996 when the case went to trial.

"Now you can include as well as eliminate suspects based on DNA evidence," Blankenship said.

Lt. Gary Spielman said a hair and blood retrieved from a glove found three blocks from the 109 W. Wilson Boulevard crime scene in 1994 were resubmitted recently to both the FBI laboratory and the Bode Technology Group in Springfield, Va.

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Advances in DNA analysis techniques since 1994 resulted in a match of the recovered hair with the DNA in a blood sample taken from Wagner, according to Spielman.

Blood found on the glove has now been matched with the sample taken from victim Daniel Davis.

"We are very confident that the new technology has made the difference," Spielman said at a 4 p.m. press conference Friday. "Based on this information, Wagner was charged Friday with two counts of first-degree murder."

Investigator Wayne Shank is one of several officers who have been working on this case uninterrupted since the trial ended in a mistrial.

"While we wish the technology had been available in 1996, I'm just glad we have it now," Shank said.

Investigator Carroll Braun said Wagner was picked up last year driving a vehicle believed to have been stolen in Virginia.

"He pleaded guilty to driving while suspended and has been in jail," Braun said.

A check with the Washington County Detention Center showed that Wagner has been in custody since March 29, 2000.

Initial bond in first-degree murder cases is always denied. Wagner will appear before a Washington County District Court judge on Monday for bond review.

Wilda Davis, 80, and Daniel Davis, 84, were killed on Feb. 14, 1994, at their home at 109 W. Wilson Blvd.

Their bodies were found the next day, tied to chairs and with pillowcases covering their heads. Both had been stabbed repeatedly.

In 1997, Hagerstown City Police announced a $15,000 reward for new information in the case. The figure included $5,000 from Crime Solvers plus $10,000 put up by Vernon Davis and Virginia Davis, two of the children of the slain couple.

No reward was ever claimed.

During the first trial, prosecutors attempted to link Wagner to the slayings, saying Wagner was pressured into the crime by his landlord and the Davises' son-in-law, Ted Monger, court records said.

Defense attorneys argued that Monger and his friend, the late Charles Harmon, set Wagner up as the "fall guy" for the slayings, committed either by them or by someone working for them, court records said.

No one else was ever charged in the slayings.

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