Jury of 12 considers death penalty for arsonist Davis

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Michael Davis

Arraignment of Michael Davis

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Arraignment of Michael Davis

By Patricia Meade

If sentenced to die by the judge, the 18-year-old would be the youngest death-row inmate.

YOUNGSTOWN — Jurors considering today if Michael A. Davis should die by lethal injection for the fiery murders of six people won’t be told that a death verdict is only a recommendation to the judge.

Last week, the jury in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court found Davis, 18, of Bennington Avenue guilty as charged — six counts of aggravated murder with death-penalty specifications and 19 counts of aggravated arson.

The arson counts relate to the six who died, five who escaped and eight firefighters who were injured.

The deaths represent the city’s largest mass murder.

Davis used an ignitable liquid to set fire to an upholstered couch on the front porch at 1645 Stewart Ave. at 5:30 a.m. Jan. 23. The blaze spread upstairs and trapped six members of the Crawford family — Carole, 46; her daughter Jennifer, 23; and Jennifer’s children, Ranaisha, 8; Jeannine, 5; Aleisha, 3; and Brandon, 2. All died from smoke inhalation.

Davis, who showed little emotion during trial, lowered his head on the defense table when Judge R. Scott Krichbaum read the guilty verdicts Oct. 14.

The jury, eight women and four men, were due back in court today to hear from witnesses and consider sentencing.

The panel can vote for the death penalty; life without parole; 30 years to life; or 25 years to life on each of the six murders.

If they vote for the death penalty, Judge Krichbaum will consider the recommendation. The judge can override the jury decision for death. He cannot override if jurors vote against death.

Davis’ defense lawyers, James S. Gentile and Ron Yarwood, asked that Judge Krichbaum prohibit any references to the jury today that a death penalty verdict is only a recommendation. Informing the jury that such a verdict is nonbinding diminishes the jurors’ sense of responsibility and encourages a death verdict, the lawyers said in court papers.

Krichbaum ruled that counsel refrain from using the word “recommendation” at any time during the sentencing trial.

The state, represented by Prosecutor Paul J. Gains, will ask jurors to consider trial evidence and exhibits. The defense has said it will call witnesses today from Davis’ background — including his mother and a psychologist — to discuss, among other things, his mental capabilities. Davis has the option of giving an unsworn statement to the jury.

Among the mitigating factors allowed by state law to argue against the death penalty are strong provocation, youth, mental defect and lack of significant criminal convictions.

The judge has a gag order in effect that prohibits both sides from discussing what was expected to transpire today. No witness list was available.

If sentenced to death, Davis, who was born Dec. 15, 1989, would be the youngest inmate on death row. The youngest now is Edward Lang, 21, who committed a double murder in Summit County a few days after he turned 19 in October 2006. He has been on death row since July 2007.

Sheriff Randall A. Wellington, meanwhile, said Davis is in a small pod in the jail that has one inmate to a cell. He is not on a suicide watch but the cell is easily observed by deputies.

“He’s been a model prisoner,” the sheriff said.

Davis has been in custody since he confessed to the lead detective the day of the fatal fire. The motive was Davis’ stolen cell phone, taken by a teenage boy who stayed overnight at the Crawford house and escaped the fire.


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