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Wagner retrial is to begin today

The 49 year-old is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the 1994 deaths of Daniel and Wilda Davis. A Garrett County

The 49 year-old is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the 1994 deaths of Daniel and Wilda Davis. A Garrett County

August 19, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

The retrial of a Hagerstown man charged with the stabbing deaths of an elderly couple in their home begins today.

Russell Wayne Wagner, 49, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, of 109 W. Wilson Blvd.

The couple was found bound and stabbed to death in their home on Feb. 14, 1994. Police believe the motive was robbery.

Prosecutors originally indicted Wagner on two counts of first-degree murder about six months after the couple's death.

Wagner was tried for the murders in Garrett County, Md., in 1996 but a jury failed to reach a verdict. The trial was moved out of Washington County because of pre-trial publicity.

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Last year, Wagner was indicted again on two counts of first-degree murder based on new applications of DNA evidence collected by Hagerstown City Police.

A laborer who served time for felony theft, Wagner knew the couple and lived near them in a Chestnut Street home owned by the Davis' son-in-law, Ted Monger, according to police records.

Prosecutors sought the death penalty in 1996 but will not do so during the second trial, according to Hagerstown Police Lt. Richard Johnson, who was a lead investigator in the case and is scheduled to testify at the trial. If convicted, Wagner will face as many as two consecutive life sentences.

Wagner's trial at Washington County Courthouse is expected to take two weeks. During a motions hearing earlier this month, Circuit Judge Frederick Wright ruled that the DNA evidence presented by Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael was reliable and generally accepted by the scientific community.

Defense attorney Susan Puhula argued that the evidence was tainted and unacceptable.

In January 2001, hair and blood samples taken from a glove found three blocks from the crime scene in 1994 were resubmitted to the FBI laboratory and the Bode Technology Group in Springfield, Va.

Advances in DNA testing methods since 1994 indicated the hair might have come from Wagner, according to Michael.

Michael and Puhula could not be reached for this story.

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