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Wagner given two life terms

October 03, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright on Wednesday sentenced Russell Wayne Wagner to consecutive life sentences for the 1994 murders of Daniel and Wilda Davis.

Wright granted Wagner, 50, the possibility of parole, but said the outcome may be the same as if he hadn't. "When he will have his first parole hearing, he will be in his 70s," Wright said.

Wright said parole is rarely granted on the first try. "So, that puts him in his 80s, if he lives that long, or his 90s, if he lives that long."

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About two dozen relatives from the victims' family sat together to hear the sentence.

Afterward, Daniel and Wilda Davis' son, Vernon, said the family was disappointed Wright allowed a slim chance for Wagner to be released through parole.

"We shouldn't have to go through this in 25 years," but the family will come out to oppose parole then if it has to, said Vernon Davis, who was released from the hospital Tuesday after suffering a heart attack Saturday.

Asked if there was concern about his attending today's sentencing, he said he felt compelled to be present. "Wouldn't you?" he asked.

A jury convicted Wagner on Aug. 29 of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of burglary.

Wright sentenced Wagner to life in prison on each of the four murder counts. The life sentences for the two murder counts involving Wilda Davis will run consecutively to the life sentences for the two murder counts involving Daniel Davis.

Wright also sentenced Wagner to 20 years in prison for the burglary conviction, to run concurrently to the felony murder count involving Daniel Davis.

The practical effect is that Wagner was sentenced to one set of life sentences, then another set of life sentences.

Daniel Davis was 84 and his wife, Wilda Davis, was 80 when they were found slain in their home at 109 W. Wilson Blvd. in February 1994. They had been bound and stabbed many times the night before, according to court records.

Wearing blue jeans and an untucked red plaid shirt, Wagner stood behind the defense table before he was sentenced. He was given a chance to speak, but declined.

Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joseph Michael told Wright that the state sought a sentence of life in prison without parole because the murders were "heinous" crimes that took "an enormous toll on that family."

Wagner's attorney, Stephen Harris, argued against the state's request and moved for a new trial.

He listed several grounds, including what he perceived as an inconsistency in the jury's verdict. First-degree murder is premeditated, while felony murder is not, and Wagner could not have committed both, Harris said.

Wright rejected that argument. He said the separate convictions represented different elements of the crime.

As he explained the reasoning for his sentence, Wright said the state legislature added the possibility of life in prison without parole 15 years ago as a third choice in murder cases. The only two choices until then were life with parole or the death penalty.

Life without parole is only appropriate for a case in which the defendant committed murder with his own hands and in which the death penalty is a possible sentence, Wright said.

That did not apply in this case because the jury appears to have convicted Wagner on the premise that he aided and abetted in the murder of the Davises, Wright said.

When the sentencing hearing was over, Harris said outside the courtroom that he planned to file an appeal. He has 30 days to do so.

Michael and Washington County State's Attorney Ken Long declined to comment on the sentence.

Asked later in the day if authorities are still trying to figure out who else was involved in the Davises' murder, Long said, "The investigation is open. The investigation continues."

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