Defendant Herbert Lowe, at left, with his attorney, George Lawson. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — A man accused of shooting to death his girlfriend held her roommate hostage for four hours before letting her call 911, but only after he fled the scene, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Herbert Soward Lowe, 61, faces life in prison if convicted of murder and other charges in the Jan. 29, 2013, death of Lisa Marie Davis, 49, inside her home. It is the same home she let Lowe share for four years after he lost his to foreclosure, said Executive Assistant District Attorney Kathryn Powers.
Powers told jurors during her opening statement that Lowe shot Davis in cold blood, angry that she was making him move out.
"The final moments Lisa Marie Davis spent on this earth were not spent with her only son and her friends," said Powers. "They were spent facedown on the floor of her kitchen as blood poured out of her body from a gunshot wound to the chest and a gunshot wound to the back. She struggled to breathe, unable to call 911."
That was about 8 a.m., just after Davis' friend and roommate's daughter left for the school bus. Velinsa Bell Johnson was upstairs in her bedroom, sick, so Davis got the girl off to school that day, said Powers.
Within minutes, Johnson heard the door chime, signaling someone coming inside, she said. Johnson thought it was her daughter returning for a forgotten item so she got out of bed to go see, Powers said.
"Velinsa heard a pop before she ever got to the bedroom door," she said. "Then she heard Lisa say, 'Oh.' Then, a second pop. She opened the door, went downstairs and saw Lisa in her final moments, on the floor, with the defendant standing over her with a gun."
Davis' life was ending but Johnson's morning of terror was just beginning, said Powers.
"He saw Ms. Johnson looking at him and chased her into the bedroom," she said. "She tried to hide under the bed but there was stuff under there. He said to her, 'I should kill you, too' and ordered her to look at him. 'Look at me, he said. You look at me.'"
Lowe was convinced she was "in on" Davis' plan to have him move out, said Powers. He forced Johnson onto the bathroom floor at gunpoint, she said. It was then Johnson began pleading for her life.
"She told him her daughter was all she had and she was all her daughter had," Powers told jurors. "She called on Jesus and begged him not to kill her."
After some time passed, Johnson asked Lowe why he killed Davis.
"'Well, he told her, Lisa pulled a gun on me and I had to shoot her,'" said Powers. "She begged him to call police or someone for help so he finally called his son after four hours. He told her to wait 10 minutes before calling 911 after he left because he didn't want police coming after him."
When Lowe left, he drove to Food Depot and left his car. He then surrendered his gun to Morrow Fire Department officials who called a police officer.
Defense attorney makes opening statement
Defense attorney George Lawson told jurors during his opening statement that he and the state agreed on many of the facts of the case, with some exceptions.
Lawson said the break-up was amicable and no surprise to anyone who knew Davis and Lowe. He said Lowe packed a bag and made plans to return for the rest of his stuff. Lowe put his things in his car and realized he forgot his cell, said Lawson.
"He'd put his gun in his sweater pocket," he said. "He had a permit to carry a weapon. He went into the kitchen and looks to his right. There's Ms. Davis. She pulled her weapon for reasons unknown and pointed it at Mr. Lowe."
Lawson said Lowe was stunned.
"He was startled," he said. "He was staring down the barrel of a gun owned by a woman known to be proficient with firearms. Gunfire was exchanged and Ms. Davis was hit."
Lawson didn't disagree that Lowe stayed in the house four hours afterward.
"He spent time in the house trying to figure out what to do," he said. "Then he left the residence, talked to his son and called 911 on the way to the fire department."
Victim's best friend is state's first witness
Pamela Dixon traveled from Michigan to testify against the man charged with killing her best friend. The women met in 1977 when they were members of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Michigan.
"We were like sisters," said Dixon. "In 1981, I got married and she was in my wedding."
Davis gave birth to her only child, Terry Cannon, in 1984 and graduated college in 1990. Davis relocated to Georgia and took a job marketing and promoting the world's best-selling soft drink — Coca-Cola — at its headquarters in Atlanta. She was able to buy her house in Forest Park in 1991. It would be the last place she called home.
The women were godmothers to each other's children, said Dixon.
"We spoke daily, sometimes twice a day," she said. "We traveled together once a year. We were really close. When she left work for home, she called me. If she was meeting with friends, she called me. We talked about travel plans and decisions and our children."
Although hundreds of miles separated the women, Dixon said Davis kept her apprised of what was going on in her life, including meeting Lowe. The two dated when they first met about 2003 at Coca-Cola but Lawson said in his opening statement that the relationship didn't work and they parted ways.
When their mothers died within six months of each other a few years later, Davis and Lowe were drawn together, said Lawson. Then Lowe lost his house to foreclosure and was also unemployed so Davis let him move in on what was supposed to be a temporary basis, said Dixon.
By September 2012, Davis was disenchanted with the arrangement, she said. Davis reportedly told Dixon at that time she and Lowe were no longer a couple but were leading separate lives.
"We had a phone conversation where she told me he was gone to Chicago for a job interview," Dixon testified. "She said she hoped he'd get the job so he could move on."
At the same time, however, Davis was planning a surprise 60th birthday party for Lowe that November.
"She invited his family and friends because she was hoping they might help him with money so he could move out of her house," said Dixon.
The party was Nov. 30. The next day, Davis gave Lowe 30 days to move, she said. On New Year's Day, Dixon said Davis reminded Lowe about the deadline.
"He hadn't responded or done anything," said Dixon. "I told her I didn't think he was going to move."
Instead, the couple, along with Cannon and Johnson and her daughter, drove to Washington, D.C., to watch the second inauguration of President Obama. Dixon said Davis was excited because she'd attended the first one in 2009 and because she'd bought new boots for the frigid northeastern winter weather.
"I talked to her after she got back and asked if the boots kept her feet warm," she said. "It was not a good trip. She said she got sick and had to take prescription medication."
Davis also told her she thought Lowe was stalking her and going through her personal papers. Under cross-examination, Lawson asked her if she told the police about the alleged stalking.
"No," said Dixon. "At the same time, I never thought he'd shoot her either."
Terry Cannon was victim's only child
Cannon followed Dixon to the stand and concurred with her assessment of the trip to D.C.
"The trip was horrible," he said. "There was a lot of tension but I couldn't tell what the problem was."
The day his mother died, he got a call from Johnson.
"She was frantic and erratic," he said. "She said, 'T.C., hurry and get over here. Herb shot your mother and she's dead.'"
Cannon testified he drove straight over and found police officers blocking the driveway — and his entrance into his childhood home.
"I pushed past to see my mother," he said. "She was under a blanket and I lifted it to see if she was OK. She was cold and lifeless."
Johnson's daughter, now 14, testified that there was no arguing or yelling between Davis and Lowe that morning as she got ready for school.
Her testimony was followed by several public safety officials, one of whom said Lowe never claimed he fired in self-defense.
Wednesday's testimony is set to begin with crime scene investigators. Lawson said Monday that Lowe will testify during the defense's case.