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Judge calls DNA 'critical' in Wagner slaying case

May 14, 2002|BY KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

A defense attorney for a man scheduled to stand trial a second time in the stabbing deaths of a Hagerstown couple asked during a motion hearing Monday that DNA evidence protocol used by FBI experts be released.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright said he would send a letter to the FBI if defense attorney Michele Nethercott would submit a draft of her request.

"The DNA is absolutely critical to both sides of this case," Wright said.

Russell Wayne Wagner, 49, was tried six years ago in the 1994 stabbing deaths of Daniel and Wilda Davis in their West Wilson Boulevard home but a Garrett County jury failed to reach a unanimous decision.

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A judge declared a mistrial and authorities last year charged Wagner with the crime again, this time based on evidence using DNA testing processes unavailable at the time of the original trial.

During Monday's hearing, Wright denied Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael's request for information from experts employed by the defense but not scheduled to testify in the retrial set for Aug. 19.

During a motion hearing in January, Wright postponed Wagner's retrial so defense attorneys can do their own DNA testing of hair and blood samples from the crime scene.

Wagner has been held in the Washington County Detention Center without bond since the case was reopened a year ago through a grand jury indictment.

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 Blvd. 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 was 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 were released.

Wilda Davis, 80, and Daniel Davis, 84, were stabbed to death Feb. 14, 1994, and their bodies were found the next day tied to chairs and with pillowcases covering their heads.

- Staff Writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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