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Convicted murderer found dead

February 10, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The man convicted of murdering Daniel and Wilda Davis in their Wilson Boulevard home in Hagerstown on Valentine's Day 1994 has died in prison, Maryland correctional officials confirmed Wednesday.

Russell Wayne Wagner was serving two life sentences at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup for the brutal slayings nearly 11 years ago.

Division of Correction spokesman George Gregory said that Wagner, 52, was found unresponsive in his single cell on Feb. 2.

Efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead at 12:15 p.m., Gregory said.

An investigation is being conducted but foul play has been ruled out, Gregory said.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright sentenced Wagner in October 2002.

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

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Efforts to reach Davis family members Wednesday were unsuccessful.

A jury convicted Wagner on Aug. 29, 2002, of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of burglary. An earlier jury trial ended in a mistrial.

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

Last month, Maryland's second-highest court upheld the use of mitochondrial DNA evidence, which critics claim is less reliable than DNA obtained from the nuclei of cells, in the appeal of Wagner's double-murder conviction.

The ruling upheld Wagner's two consecutive life sentences ordered by Wright for convictions in the premeditated first-degree murders of each victim, but vacated the two concurrent life sentences ordered for convictions in the first-degree felony murders of each victim.

In Wagner's case, FBI scientists obtained mitochondrial DNA from a single strand of hair found on a glove recovered from a neighbor's back porch. Defense attorneys argued that processing of that type of DNA is particularly susceptible to laboratory contamination.

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