Davis v. State

Decision Date10 November 2016
Docket NumberNo. SC13–1.,SC13–1.
Citation207 So.3d 177
Parties Leon DAVIS, Jr., Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

Howard L. Dimmig, II, Public Defender, and Karen Mary Kinney, Assistant Public Defender, Tenth Judicial Circuit, Bartow, FL, for Appellant.

Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL; and Marilyn Muir Beccue, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, FL, for Appellee.

PER CURIAM.

This case is before the Court on appeal from two judgments of conviction of first-degree murder and two sentences of death. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const. Leon Davis, Jr. (Davis), was convicted in Polk County of the 2007 murders of Dashrath Patel and Pravinkumar Patel, and he now pursues the direct appeal of his convictions and sentences which are subject to automatic review by this Court. For the reasons explained below, we affirm the trial court's judgments of conviction and sentences of death.

Before we begin, we further explain that Davis is the appellant in two separate death penalty direct appeals. In the present case, SC13–1, Davis was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, and one count each of attempted armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. These convictions arose from the attempted armed robbery of a BP gas station and convenience store in Polk County, and Davis was sentenced to death for both of the murders.

Today, this Court also released its opinion in Davis v. State, No. SC11–1122, 207 So.3d 142, 2016 WL 6649941 (Fla. Nov. 10, 2016). In that case, Davis was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, and one count each of armed robbery and first-degree arson. The convictions arose from a series of events at the Headley Insurance Agency in Lake Wales. Davis was sentenced to death for two of the murders. The murders in the Headley case occurred within several days of the murders in this case. A limited scope of evidence from the Headley trial was introduced during the guilt phase of the BP trial, and the entire Headley record was admitted for purposes of the penalty phase. Some of the issues that Davis raises in the present appeal challenge the admission of evidence from the Headley case. Additionally, Davis raises two issues (dying declaration and eyewitness identifications) in both direct appeals. We now set forth the facts of this case and then address Davis's claims on direct appeal.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On the evening of December 7, 2007, Davis drove to the vicinity of a BP gas station and convenience store (BP) with the intent to commit robbery. The BP was located near the intersection of Highway 557 and Interstate 4 in Polk County. Around 8:51 p.m. that evening, BP employee Dashrath Patel (Dashrath) and his friend Pravinkumar Patel (Pravinkumar) walked out of the convenience store's front door and across the parking lot to change the gas price sign.

The BP had closed for the evening, and the convenience store lights were turned off. While talking on the telephone, another BP employee, Prakashkumar Patel (Prakashkumar), remotely locked the store's front door and began to change the gas prices on the cash register. Seconds later, the surveillance camera captured a person who appeared to be a black man, about six feet tall, who approached the front door of the store and pulled on the door. The man, who had a large build, was dressed in dark clothing and wore a hood and a face mask.

Prakashkumar indicated to the man that the store was closed. The man then raised a gun to the window and fired one shot into the store towards Prakashkumar. Suddenly, the shooter's attention was drawn to Dashrath and Pravinkumar, and he ran across the parking lot toward them. Surveillance footage showed both men with their hands in the air, and Prakashkumar reported hearing two gunshots that occurred about five to ten seconds apart. According to the surveillance footage, the gunshots were fired at approximately 8:53 p.m. After firing the gunshots, the shooter ran back to the store's locked front door and tried in vain to open it. He raised his gun again, but he then turned and ran away from the scene.

In the meantime, Prakashkumar had activated the silent alarm, called 9–1–1, and sheltered in the storeroom. Upon arrival at the scene, the responding deputies learned that there were two missing people. Following a brief search, the bodies of Dashrath and Pravinkumar were located. Both victims were shot in the head execution-style with .38 caliber bullets.

With the assistance of a trained K–9 search dog, law enforcement searched the immediate area for the scent of a person who may have recently left the scene. The K–9 detected a scent that tracked about one quarter of a mile to the north of the gas station. Footprints led in the same direction that the K–9 tracked, up to the point where a set of tire tracks began. A crime scene technician photographed and made casts of the tire tracks.

In the days following the murders, law enforcement conducted traffic stops in the area of the BP to question drivers who may have seen something pertinent on the evening of the murders. During the course of these stops, four people provided information regarding a car that was parked that evening in an isolated area near the gas station. The witnesses described a dark-colored car, possibly a black Nissan, backed up against a gate. One of the witnesses described the car as having a distinctive grille on the front end.

Davis was not identified as a suspect in the December 7 BP murders until after the December 13 robbery, arson, and shootings at the Headley Insurance Agency in Lake Wales (Headley). Davis was positively identified as the perpetrator of those crimes. The lead detective in both the BP and the Headley investigations was Detective Ivan Navarro. Detective Navarro requested an analysis of the ballistics evidence obtained during the course of the BP and Headley investigations. The results of the analysis demonstrated that the same gun was used in the crimes at the BP and at Headley.

During the Headley investigation, a black Nissan Altima with a distinctive grille was seized from the parking lot of a local nightclub, and during a search of the car, Davis's driver license was found inside. Additionally, two dark-colored jackets were found in the car's trunk, and a pair of black gloves was found in the glove compartment. In light of the witness reports that a possibly black Nissan was parked near the BP on the evening of December 7, Detective Navarro requested an analysis of the BP tire casts and the tires from the Nissan Altima linked to Davis to look for similarities. The tires from Davis's Nissan Altima were consistent with the BP tire casts.

A grand jury later indicted Davis for multiple counts stemming from the BP events: two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, one count of attempted armed robbery, and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

Guilt Phase

Davis waived a jury trial in favor of a bench trial. The State's theory was that Davis was a man burdened by significant financial distress and that he committed the murders of Dashrath and Pravinkumar during the course of an attempted armed robbery of the BP.

Evidence admitted at the trial revealed the following. At the time of the murders, Davis and his wife, Victoria, were in debt and unemployed. Victoria was pregnant at the time and was on a leave of absence from work due to pregnancy complications. The mortgage payment for the couple's home was delinquent, and the couple had given up driving one of their vehicles and cancelled their cell phone accounts because of their financial troubles. The couple shared Victoria's black Nissan Altima.

On the day of the BP murders, Davis purchased a Dan Wesson .357 magnum revolver from his cousin, Randy Black. Black also gave Davis .38 caliber bullets which were compatible with the .357 magnum. Davis returned home after purchasing the revolver, but he left home again that evening between 6 and 7 p.m. Davis was alone when he left, and he was driving the black Nissan Altima. Davis did not return home until between 9 and 9:30 p.m. Davis's home was a twenty-two to twenty-three minute drive from the BP.

Two days after the murders, Davis showed his mother the revolver that he purchased from Black. The known rifling characteristics of Davis's revolver, six lands and six grooves with right twists, were consistent with the characteristics of the projectiles obtained during the BP investigation, including the projectiles removed from the heads of the victims. The State's ballistics expert testified that .38 caliber projectiles could be fired from a .357 magnum firearm, and that the projectiles obtained during the BP investigation were consistent with having been fired from a Dan Wesson .357 magnum revolver.

The State introduced evidence from the Headley trial during the guilt phase of the BP trial. To prevent the introduction of improper evidence, the trial court entered a pretrial order that sharply limited the admissibility of Headley evidence. The limited Headley evidence revealed that on the morning of December 13, 2007, Davis went to the Lake Wales Walmart to make a purchase. Surveillance video footage obtained from the store depicted a tall black man entering the store around 7 a.m., and both a store manager and an employee positively identified the man in the video as Davis. While at Walmart, Davis purchased an orange lunch cooler.

That afternoon, Davis went to Headley, where he encountered Headley employee Yvonne Bustamante and shot her in her left hand. Shortly thereafter, Davis encountered Brandon Greisman near the Headley building. Greisman and his neighbors, who lived nearby, had walked towards the Headley building upon noticing the presence of smoke in the area. Greisman, who saw Davis and thought that he was there to offer help,...

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13 cases
  • Davis v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • November 10, 2016
  • Cruz v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • July 1, 2021
    ... ... In the present case, the prosecutor's use of the phrase "particularly upsetting," when considered against the weight of all of the evidence presented, "did not go to the heart of the case" and was "not critical to the jury's verdict." Davis v. State , 136 So. 3d 1169, 1204 (Fla. 2014) (quoting Braddy v. State , 111 So. 3d 810, 843-44 (Fla. 2012) ). Cruz fails to show how this alleged error reached down into the validity of the trial itself to the extent that the jury's recommendation of death could not have been obtained without ... ...
  • Santiago-Gonzalez v. State
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • June 25, 2020
    ... ... Ct. 616, 193 L.Ed.2d 504 (2016), his plea to first-degree murder cannot constitutionally be punished by death. However, Santiago-Gonzalez waived a penalty phase jury. "[A] defendant who has waived the right to a penalty phase jury is not entitled to relief under Hurst v. Florida ." Davis v. State , 207 So. 3d 177, 212 (Fla. 2016). XI. Sufficiency of the Evidence This Court has a mandatory obligation to independently review the sufficiency of the evidence underlying Santiago-Gonzalez's conviction, and the "customary review" evaluates whether the conviction is supported by ... ...
  • Talley v. State, 3D16-1500
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • January 9, 2019
    ... ... Once the State meets this threshold burden, it becomes the jury's duty to determine whether the evidence fails to exclude all reasonable hypotheses of innocence ... and where there is substantial, competent evidence to support the jury verdict, [the Court] will not reverse. Davis v. State , 207 So.3d 177, 195 (Fla. 2016) (alterations in original) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Talley's sole theory of defense was that Tracy and Stacy were mistaken and lacked credibility because they admitted to consuming alcohol on the day of the shooting and their testimony ... ...
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1 books & journal articles
  • § 36.05 Confrontation and Hearsay
    • United States
    • Carolina Academic Press Understanding Evidence (2018) Title Chapter 36 Right of Confrontation
    • Invalid date
    ...that this single hearsay exception survives the mandate of Crawford regardless of its testimonial nature.").[118] See Davis v. State, 207 So. 3d 177, 205 (Fla. 2016) ("[W]e join the majority of courts that have considered the post-Crawford viability of the dying declaration and have conclud......

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