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Wagner retrial postponed

January 14, 2002

Wagner retrial postponed



By MARLO BARNHART
marlob@herald-mail.com


Russell Wayne Wagner's retrial in the 1994 stabbing deaths of Donald and Wilda Davis has been postponed until August so defense attorneys can do their own DNA testing of disputed crime scene hair and blood samples, Judge Frederick Wright ruled Friday in Washington County Circuit Court.

The trial, which had been scheduled to begin Jan. 22 and run for three weeks, now will start Aug. 19 and could be completed in two weeks, Wright said after an all-day court hearing on defense motions.

During that hearing, defense attorneys insisted they repeatedly were rebuffed by prosecutors when requesting DNA evidence from tests on the blood and hair samples.

Defense attorney Stephen Harris argued that when the results finally were provided, they were on a CD-ROM that couldn't be opened initially by DNA experts hired by the defense to assist in the case.

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When a new CD-ROM was generated, Harris said the data appeared to be different from the information which did appear on the first CD-ROM when it finally was accessed.

"I feel that now we are compelled to do our own testing," Harris said, asking Wright for a continuance so that could be done.

While Wright denied that request from the bench, he later summoned defense attorneys and prosecutors to his office for a late-afternoon conference and agreed to postpone the trial.

Wagner, 49, was tried in 1996 in the deaths of the Davises, but a Garrett County Circuit jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

Wagner again was taken into custody when the case was reopened a year ago through a grand jury indictment obtained with the help of what the Washington County State's Attorney's office described as the application of new technology to old evidence.

In January 2001, prosecutors and police said a hair and a blood sample retrieved from a glove found three blocks from the 109 W. Wilson Boulevard crime scene in 1994 was resubmitted to both the FBI laboratory and the Bode Technology Group in Springfield, Va.

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 court records, which also noted that blood found on the glove had been matched with a sample from victim Daniel Davis.

At the November motions hearing, Wright denied a defense motion to compel the FBI to provide printouts of DNA results in addition to the interpretations that were submitted.

He also refused to move the trial to another county because of pre-trial publicity.

But he granted a defense motion to suppress two statements Wagner allegedly made to Garrett County deputies outside the courtroom during his trial five years ago. The contents of those alleged statements never was released.

Wilda Davis, 80, and Daniel Davis, 84, were stabbed to death Feb. 14, 1994, at their Wilson Boulevard home.

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

Wagner is being held without bond in the Washington County Detention Center.

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