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Mistrial caused by witness in domestic murder case

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

After a key witness changed his testimony, when a jury was seated, and then changed it again on the witness stand, the murder trial of Laron Deale Davis was declared a mistrial.

Davis, a 23-year-old from Albany, was charged with shooting 32-year-old Corvette Gardener to death with a .45-caliber pistol after she ended their relationship.

Clayton County police and prosecutors said Davis shot her four or five times, in front of her Jonesboro home, went inside, reloaded, and returned to shoot her one more time.

Defense Attorney Bruce Harvey said the testimony showed that Gardener was holding a gun when she was shot, and argued that Davis had killed her in self defense.

A .32-caliber pistol -- unloaded and apparently inoperable -- was found on the ground next to Gardener, when she was shot in February 2006.

Davis' romantic rival, Kenny Robertson, told Assistant District Attorney Anece Baxter White that he had given the gun to Gardener immediately before she was killed. White said that was new information, something he hadn't said to any of the police or prosecution investigators.

She told the judge that Robertson was not a cooperative witness. He had been hard to get in touch with and had insisted the district attorney's office drive him to court, if they wanted him there for the trial.

Harvey said the new information meant Gardener was carrying a gun when she was shot, a fact that bolstered the 23-year-old's self defense argument. The defense attorney also interviewed Robertson, the day the trial began, and served him with a subpoena, making the man a witness for the defense.

The trial moved forward on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the defense arguing the homicide was justified because Davis arguably was in fear for his life, when he saw Gardener with a gun.

The prosecution argued the presence of the pistol didn't change anything, since Davis went inside the house, reloaded the gun, and came back out to shoot Gardener again, which isn't an act of self defense.

On Wednesday, however, Robertson was placed on the witness stand. He swore to tell the truth and then denied what he had told the two attorneys the day before.

"He came back," District Attorney Jewel Scott explained, "and said, 'No, I didn't say that.'"

Clayton County Superior Judge Deborah Benefield ruled a mistrial, and the attorneys went back into negotiations.

On Friday, Davis pled guilty to "voluntary manslaughter." According to Georgia law, "voluntary manslaughter" is murder committed in a "sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation."

Davis was sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to court documents.

He will be required to serve 90 percent of the sentence before he is eligible for parole, Scott said.

"We could have retried it," she said, "but the family went with that."