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Second trial begins in 1994 double slayings

Defense says Wagner was 'perfect fall guy'

Defense says Wagner was 'perfect fall guy'

August 20, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

The first-degree murder trial of Russell Wayne Wagner began Monday with prosecutors portraying him as a penniless man who bought drinks for friends at a bar on the night of the stabbing deaths of Daniel and Wilda Davis but who had no alibi for the time of the murders.

The trial is Wagner's second in the deaths of the Davises, whose bodies were found by their 11-year-old granddaughter in the kitchen of their 109 W. Wilson St. home on Feb. 15, 1994. The jury failed to reach a verdict in the first trial.

The Davises, whose arms were bound behind their backs, had been beaten and stabbed on Feb. 14, 1994, according Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joseph Michael.

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Wagner, 50, told at least three people that he was involved in the deaths, Michael said during his opening statement.

Michael said that Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, owned rental properties and kept cash in their home.

Defense attorney Susan Puhula said Hagerstown City Police felt pressured to solve the case and even resorted to consulting a Florida psychic.

Her client "was the perfect fall guy" she said.

Police refused to consider other suspects and threatened witnesses until their testimony supported the prosecution's case, she said.

"Tips (from the public) were pouring in but they didn't follow up on them until 1996," she said.

Blood found on Daniel Davis' pants wasn't his, his wife's or Wagner's and police didn't pursue the matter, Puhula said.

Michael said that Wagner bought work gloves at Big Lots in Hagerstown prior to the murders and that the killer likely used gloves because of the lack of fingerprints at the scene, he said.

A glove like those Wagner purchased was found near the Davis' home, and a hair and blood were found on it, he said.

Michael said testimony from DNA experts from the FBI will show that the blood on the glove belonged to Daniel Davis and that the hair might have come from Wagner.

Puhula said the branch of DNA science used by the FBI is in its infancy and prone to contamination affecting the results.

Puhula said Wagner's whereabouts at the time of the murders can be accounted for and he couldn't have committed the crimes.

Wagner willingly made statements to police following the murders and voluntarily gave them hair samples, said Puhula.

Wagner was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree burglary about six months after the Davis' deaths and stood trial in 1996. That trial, which was moved to Garrett County, Md., because of pre-trial publicity, resulted in a hung jury.

Wagner was re-indicted on the same charges in 2001 based on new applications of DNA evidence.

Puhula told the jury of five women, seven men and two alternates that during the trial they will be shown graphic crime scene photos and they may hear language and behavior that is abhorrent to them.

"He's not a saint," said Puhula, but "he makes no attempt to sugarcoat his past."

Members of the Davis' family testified Monday that the couple kept their house tidy.

Daniel Davis and Wilda Davis cleaned their dishes immediately after eating dinner at 5 p.m. and went to bed each night around 7 or 8 p.m., according to testimony.

The couple's granddaughter and a neighbor testified that when they entered the home on Feb. 15 and found the bodies, the television was on and there were dirty dishes in the sink.

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