State v. Davis

Decision Date23 July 1991
Docket NumberNo. 71694,71694
PartiesSTATE of Missouri, Respondent, v. Ralph E. DAVIS, Appellant.
CourtMissouri Supreme Court

Thomas R. Schlesinger, Clayton, for appellant.

William L. Webster, Atty. Gen., John M. Morris, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.


Found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death for slaying his wife, defendant's appeal falls within the ambit of the Court's exclusive appellate jurisdiction, Mo. Const. art. V, § 3, as well as the appeal from the denial of his Rule 29.15 motion seeking postconviction relief. In this consolidated proceeding both judgments are affirmed.


Defendant first challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction of murder in the first degree and, when examining this issue, we consider the evidence and all inferences reasonably drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the jury's verdict, disregarding all contrary evidence and inferences. State v. McDonald, 661 S.W.2d 497, 500 (Mo. banc 1983), cert. denied. 471 U.S. 1009, 105 S.Ct. 1875, 85 L.Ed.2d 168 (1985). The unique circumstances of the case call for a detailed recital of the facts.

Susan Davis (Susan) and defendant met in Columbia during August, 1974, and were married in October, 1979. Prior to their marriage, Susan gave birth to the parties' son, Robbie, on August 3, 1978, and some time later they moved to a new home on Obermiller Road, immediately north of Columbia. In March, 1982, their second child, Angela, was born.

Many witnesses testified that their relationship was one of affection and as parents they "worshipped" their children; further, though Defendant's two previous marriages had failed, he testified that his time with Susan was like "being in heaven." During the course of their marriage, the couple received substantial financial support including loans and gifts approximating $100,000, from Susan's parents.

In late 1985 signs of marital discord appeared when Susan was employed through a temporary services company as a secretary to Westinghouse Corporation at the Columbia City Power Plant. Defendant began to suspect she was involved in an affair with a coworker and as their relationship deteriorated Susan filed an action for dissolution of marriage on November 14, 1985, which she dismissed two weeks later; it is not clear if defendant knew of this filing. Faced with the failing marriage but concerned for the family welfare Susan contacted their pastor in early May, 1986, asking him to come to their home to talk with defendant and specifically to collect defendant's firearms.

On May 16, the spouses engaged in a violent argument from which Susan suffered bruises to her arms and face. Following this incident she contacted local law enforcement officials and on May 21 filed formal charges against the defendant for third degree assault. When arrested, defendant posted a $1,000 bond, was released and the matter set for hearing June 2. On that day, Susan filed a civil adult abuse action, pursuant to Chapter 455, RSMo, an ex parte order of protection issued restraining defendant from entering the home on Obermiller Road and Susan was awarded temporary custody of the children. That cause was also set for hearing June 2.

On May 21, Susan left home with the children in the family automobile (a red Ford Escort) and drove to her parent's home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Meanwhile, from the day the protective order issued until June 2, defendant violated the order by repeatedly returning to the home on Obermiller Road. While there, defendant acknowledged to a neighbor he knew he was violating the court's order but asked the neighbor not to call the police. He also told the neighbor that he believed Susan was having an affair and was involved in drugs. Venting his anger, defendant burst forth the threat that, "The only way to stop a whoring bitch like that is to shoot her." At that time defendant, in contrast to his usual neat appearance, was unkempt and disheveled and another friend who noted that defendant appeared to be drinking heavily, was told by defendant that if Susan did not quit "messing with him" he would "blow her away."

On June 2, Susan drove a rental car from Cedar Rapids for the criminal and the adult abuse hearings. Though the criminal matter was continued, in the adult abuse proceeding an order issued restraining defendant for 180 days from molesting Susan and from entering the dwelling on Obermiller Road. Susan returned to Cedar Rapids that night.

On June 5, defendant contacted the couple's pastor and requested the return of his firearms as the hunting season was approaching. Also that day, Susan drove to Columbia in the red Ford Escort to return to work and though she left the children in Iowa she brought with her a newly acquired German Shepherd dog. Visiting her next door neighbor she learned that defendant had continuously violated the court's order by entering the home, and as they were talking, defendant appeared. Susan attempted to leave but defendant grabbed her by the wrist and forcibly took her car keys and told her he wanted to talk. The neighbor informed defendant he was going to call the police and went into his home to do so. As he dialed 911, the defendant entered the home and grabbed the phone and slammed it down but then left the house. Susan contacted the local law enforcement officials who searched her home and surrounding area finding the keys to the Escort on the neighbor's garage floor. Later that evening after Susan had gone, defendant and the couple's pastor returned to the neighbor's home. Defendant stated he had no money and no place to live and it was decided that defendant would turn himself in to the authorities the next day. At that time he borrowed $100 from the neighbor, apparently for immediate expenses.

The next day, Susan filed new criminal charges against the defendant for third degree assault and for violation of the protective order. Defendant was again arrested and released on bond and was further ordered not to have any contact with his wife. The same day, a capias warrant was issued for defendant's violation of the condition of the prior bond, but this warrant was not executed until June 10.

On the weekend of June 7 and 8, Susan and a friend changed the locks on the doors of the house on Obermiller Road and installed a series of anti-burglary devices. When she returned to Missouri, Susan had spent her first night at a women's shelter and the next at a local hotel; however, on the 8th she resumed living in the Obermiller Road residence, and on June 9 went to work at the power plant. During this period, defendant had purchased a 12-gauge shotgun and ammunition from a local sporting goods store. On the evening of June 9, at about 6:15 p.m. Susan left the plant in her Escort remarking to a coworker that she intended to drive straight home. That was the last time Susan Davis was ever seen. A friend who called Susan's home a few hours later received no answer.

About noon on June 10th, defendant drove the Escort from Columbia to Jefferson City using the back roads to avoid being seen. He drove the car to a rental storage facility called Apache U-Store-It west of Jefferson City and told the attendant he needed a rental space large enough to store an automobile. Defendant, sweating profusely and complaining he was sick, told the attendant that he was storing the car because he feared he might lose it in a divorce proceeding. After securing the rental unit, the defendant went to a local store where he purchased a lock for the unit and two air fresheners which he placed in the Escort. He also used the phone at the rental facility to contact a local cab company and when the cab arrived he instructed the driver to take him to Columbia but had only enough money to reach Ashland, a town 15 miles south of Columbia. During the drive, defendant appeared quite agitated and telling the driver a similar story, stated he had stored the Escort to avoid losing it in the divorce.

On June 11, responding to calls that Susan was missing, local law enforcement officials searched the home on Obermiller Road. Gaining entry, they found the dog closed in the garage with dog food and feces scattered on the floor and the house appeared as if someone had just stepped out, with a copy of TV Guide in the living room turned to June 8. The police also found several recently filled prescription bottles, one a prescription for the drug Tetracycline.

Also on that day, defendant filed for dissolution of marriage and on June 14, drove to Cedar Rapids where with help from local law enforcement officials he secured the custody of the two children from Susan's parents. Returning to Columbia, defendant moved back into the home on Obermiller Road again in violation of the protective order, but as a result of Susan's disappearance, the three charges pending against defendant were eventually dismissed. Further after service by publication, a default divorce was granted awarding defendant custody of the children and ordering Susan to pay child support.

In mid-June and late July, defendant apparently forged three checks on Susan's personal account totaling nine hundred dollars. Two were honored by the bank reducing the balance of Susan's account to less than two dollars, and during this time, defendant forged her signature to a change of beneficiary form on defendant's policy of life insurance.

In the twenty months following, defendant spun a web of lies to cover the whereabouts of the Escort and his wife. When asked by the police, friends or relatives, defendant routinely stated he did not know where the Escort was and asserted he believed his wife had "run off" to Texas in the Escort to get a job at the Westinghouse Corporation's headquarters to be with her alleged lover. Not once during this period did defendant inform the police or relatives the...

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