Prosecutor says he’ll seek death penalty in arson case
Three types of death-penalty specifications apply, a
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN — The arson and murder case against Michael A. Davis will be directly presented Thursday to the Mahoning County grand jury with death-penalty specifications, said Paul J. Gains, county prosecutor.
“We’re going to present evidence to the grand jury and instruct them on the law, including the death specifications, where applicable,” Gains said Friday. “The grand jury will be given all options under the law,” he added.
Gains said he’d rather not discuss the case too much because he was concerned about the effects of pretrial publicity.
“You guys have basically convicted this guy in the media,” objected Martin Yavorcik, Davis’ court-appointed lawyer. Yavorcik added that his client’s only court appearance was Thursday in municipal court by video arraignment.
Calling Davis “a very quiet guy,” Yavorcik said he met with him for four hours Thursday evening in Mahoning County jail, where he is being held without bond.
As for Davis’ demeanor in jail, Yavorcik said: “I think it was complete and utter disbelief that he’s sitting in jail charged with the largest mass murder in the history of Youngstown.”
Six people, including four children, died in Wednesday’s early morning blaze at 1645 Stewart Ave.
Robert E. Bush, chief of the criminal division in the county prosecutor’s office, said he expects death specifications will be attached, where applicable, to all six aggravated-murder counts. If he isn’t sentenced to die, Davis faces a potential life prison term if he’s convicted of any of the aggravated-murder counts, Bush said.
The 16 death specifications would allege four deceased victims were under age 13, there were multiple murder victims, and that the murders were committed during the commission of another felony, namely aggravated arson.
Bush said he also expects the indictment to contain 11 aggravated-arson counts, one for each person in the burning house, including the six who died and the five who escaped, plus one for each of eight firefighters the fire department said were injured while fighting the blaze.
Gains said he’d oppose setting any bond for Davis, 18, of 817 Bennington Ave., because of the seriousness of the charges and because he considers him a flight risk.
“I’m absolutely going to seek a bond because he’s presumed innocent,” until proved guilty, Yavorcik said. “My guy’s not a flight risk,” Yavorcik said, adding that Davis lives with his mother and stepfather. “He doesn’t know anywhere else in the world,” and doesn’t own or drive a car, he added.
Yavorcik said it is “highly likely” that defense counsel will seek a change of venue to move the trial to another county because of the considerable pretrial publicity. Typically, the trial judge decides whether to grant such a motion after jury selection gets under way.
The decisive question for potential jurors is not whether they know about the case, but whether they have formed an opinion as to Davis’ guilt or innocence, Bush said.
Bush and Robert Andrews, assistant county prosecutor, are now working on the case, and Gains said, he, too, may become directly involved in the prosecution.
If the indictment contains death-penalty specifications, two defense lawyers must be appointed. Yavorcik said he is state-certified to be co-counsel for such a case but not to be the lead defense lawyer.
Only three Mahoning County lawyers are qualified to be lead counsel in such cases, according to the Ohio Supreme Court Web site. They are John Juhasz, Lou DeFabio and James Gentile.
Bush said Davis’ youthfulness would not be a reason for him not to seek the death penalty. “The facts more than warrant the death specifications being sought,” Bush said. “You’ve got six victims. You have four victims under 13, and it was purposeful,’’ he added.
There is a recent Ohio precedent for executing someone who was 18 at the time he committed an aggravated murder. Adremy Dennis of Akron was executed by lethal injection in October 2004 for the death of Kurt Kyle, a Columbiana native and race car driver, who was fatally shot in an Akron robbery that netted $15 in 1994.
Dennis, executed at age 28 after 10 years on death row, was then the youngest inmate put to death in Ohio since 1962.