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Presence of pistol key in murder trial

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A last-minute interview with a witness in the murder trial of Laron Deale Davis sent lawyers into plea negotiations, and may have bolstered the 23-year-old's self-defense argument.

After a jury was vetted, seated and sworn in, Tuesday afternoon, Clayton County Superior Court Judge Deborah Benefield let everyone take an hour and a half lunch. During that time, Assistant District Attorney Anece Baxter White re-interviewed Kenny Robertson, a reluctant witness in the prosecution's case against Davis.

Robertson gave White new information about a .32-caliber pistol that was found near the body of 32-year-old Corvette Gardener, after Davis allegedly shot her six times.

According to Robertson, Gardener was probably holding the gun when Davis shot her.

Defense Attorney Bruce Harvey said the information made Robertson "a very critical witness to the defense." After interviewing Robertson, Harvey turned to the defendant and said, "He's our witness now."

After receiving the new information about the presence of the pistol, White and Harvey spent about 10 minutes negotiating a possible plea deal, while the jury waited in a back room. No agreement was reached, however, and the jury was seated to hear the evidence.

According to police and prosecutors, Davis and Robertson were both dating Gardener in February 2006. In her Jonesboro home, Gardener told Davis that she was breaking up with him and was going to date Robertson, prosecutor Jeff Lacey told the jury.

Garden then crossed the street to Robertson's brother's house and returned carrying an unloaded, rusty pistol. She met Davis on the front stoop. He shot her five times with a .45-caliber handgun, Lacey said, then, went inside, reloaded, and shot her once more.

One bullet severed her spine and fragmented, with a piece of lead lodging in her lung, the prosecutor said. She was paralyzed from the gunshot wounds, until she died 15 days later.

"They don't get that bullet fragment out until the autopsy," Lacey said. "He [Davis] left, leaving Corvette Gardener bleeding, paralyzed, her spine severed, on the walk to her front door, her body surrounded by five shell casings."

Clayton County Police found her there, with the small revolver at her feet.

Davis, wearing dark blue slacks and a blue-and-white checked shirt in the courtroom Tuesday, listened intently to the proceedings, and made notes in a big, black binder.

Harvey told the jury, during his opening argument, that there was no debate about who fired the fatal shots. Davis killed his ex-girlfriend, the defense attorney argued, but it was justified self-defense.

"There is no real mystery here," he said. "This isn't a 'whodunit.' This isn't a mystery you're going to have to solve ... The question is, what kind of reaction would you have when faced with the barrel of a gun?"

Harvey said that even if the gun wasn't loaded, and even if it wasn't operable, Davis would be in fear for his life, when it was pointed at him, and is legally allowed to protect himself.

"When you see a weapon, there's no time for reflection. There's no time for careful reflection. It was just a reaction to seeing a gun come up," Harvey said.

The trial is expected to continue on Wednesday, with prosecutors calling neighbors and police to testify.

Davis faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.