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Jury finds Wagner guilty

August 30, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

A Washington County Circuit Court judge will decide whether convicted murderer Russell Wayne Wagner will spend the rest of his life behind bars or have the possibility of parole.

A jury Thursday morning found Wagner guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the 1994 stabbing deaths of Daniel and Wilda Davis.

A first-degree murder conviction is punishable by life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.

The jury of five women and seven men reached a verdict after deliberating for about five hours Wednesday and for less than an hour Thursday morning.

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Prior to resuming deliberations Thursday, the jury asked Wright to define all of the charges: Two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of burglary.

The jury returned with a verdict at around 9:45 a.m.

A pre-sentence investigation will be conducted before Wright sentences Wagner. That report is expected to be completed in two to four weeks,

Wright said he ordered the pre-sentence investigation after prosecutors filed a motion asking that Wagner be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

A pre-sentence investigation is a compilation of facts about a person including criminal convictions, addictions, interventions, psychological treatment, services provided and family dynamics, police said.

Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, were found slain in their 109 W. Wilson Blvd. home on Feb. 15, 1994. They had been bound and stabbed multiple times in the chest the night before. Pillowcases had been placed over their heads.

Wagner, 50, sighed after the verdict on the first charge was read and showed no emotion during the rest of the proceeding. He will be held without bond pending sentencing.

Defense attorney Stephen Harris asked that the court clerk poll the jurors to see if each agreed with the verdict. Each responded affirmatively.

When the verdict was read, family members of the Davises burst into tears and smiled.

"It's awesome. I couldn't believe all those guiltys," said Vivian Davis, the wife of the Davises' son, Vernon.

Vivian Davis said she hopes police don't let the investigation end with Wagner's conviction.

"I feel like a burden has been lifted," she said.

Wagner's conviction is satisfying but doesn't give him closure, Vernon Davis said.

"I don't like the word closure. It means letting go and forgetting. I'll never forget this part of my life. I'll always remember and my kids will, too," he said.

Wagner was tried in 1996 in Garrett County, Md. on the same charges. That trial ended in a hung jury.

"I'm pleased with the verdict," said Washington County State's Attorney Kenneth Long.

"Just doing my job," Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joe Michael said after the verdict was read.

Michael, in his argument to the jury, had contended that Wagner and at least one other person entered the Davis home and stabbed the couple to death so that the wife of Ted Monger, the couple's son-in-law, would inherit $50,000.

Three prosecution witnesses testified that Wagner said he was at the Davis home when the murder was committed. A hair that a DNA expert for the FBI said possibly was Wagner's was found on a glove with Daniel Davis' blood on it.

Harris, in his closing argument, had suggested to the jury that Ted Monger was responsible for the killings and that Wagner was the fall guy. He also questioned the validity of the DNA evidence and other prosecution evidence.

Michael, in rebuttal, told the jury the prosecution also believed Monger was involved, but said Wagner was also at the house.

Michael told the jurors there were other suspects in the case, and that Wagner would just be "the first domino to fall."

Monger has never been charged in the slayings.

When asked how prosecutors would proceed, Long said, "it's an open investigation," and wouldn't comment further.

Hagerstown City Police detectives who worked on the case refused to comment on the investigation.

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