Prosecutor: Triple-Murder Suspect Told Friend, ‘I Hurt People’

January 19th, 2011 by Staff


BARTOW | Minutes before he surrendered to authorities, triple-murder defendant Leon Davis Jr. sobbed as he told a friend, “I hurt somebody, I hurt them bad,” a state prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace said Barry Gaston, a former officer with the Lake Wales Police Department, is expected to testify about what Davis told him that December evening in 2007. So is Davis’ mother, who told authorities her son made a similar comment to her.

“He told her, ‘I hurt people,’ and he was crying,” Wallace told the jury in his opening statement.

But Bartow defense lawyer Robert Norgard said that description is misleading. Davis wasn’t making a statement, but was responding to the allegations being made against him.

“He said, ‘I hurt somebody?’ from him being visibly ­confused about what these people were saying,” Norgard told jurors during his opening statement. “Mr. Davis was upset they said he did these things. He didn’t understand why.”

After two weeks of jury selection, the trial against Davis got under way Tuesday with opening statements.

Opening statements give jurors a road map to what will unfold during the trial. Lawyers don’t interpret the evidence, but simply state what the evidence will be and what jurors should listen for.

Wallace stepped through how authorities think Davis spent his day, focusing on the attack at a Lake Wales insurance agency that left two women and a newborn baby dead.

Prosecutors say Davis attempted to rob the insurance office that afternoon, and when clerks Yvonne Bustamante and her sister-in-law, Juanita Luciano, had little money to give him, he forced them into a restroom, bound them with duct tape, splashed gasoline onto them and set them on fire.

That night, doctors had to deliver Luciano’s baby prematurely because her burns were so extensive. The baby, a boy, lived for three days.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Davis if he’s convicted of the murder charges.

Norgard outlined some of the problems he sees with the state’s evidence, including the police photo packs shown to eyewitnesses and the brief time witnesses had to see the suspect at the scene that day.

Norgard said he’ll be calling a series of experts to testify about problems with the state’s evidence.

In testimony Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors used crime scene photos, graphics and maps to illustrate where blood and debris were found following the attack. Paula Maney, a crime scene technician with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, is expected to return to the witness stand this morning to continue her testimony.

This trial marks the third time lawyers and Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter have tried to get this case before a jury. Last summer, the trial halted during jury selection so prosecutors could appeal Hunter’s ruling allowing a defense expert to testify about problems with eyewitness identification. The appellate court upheld Hunter’s ruling.

Hunter declared a mistrial in the second effort in October after a paramedic testified to what Bustamante was thinking when she identified Davis as her attacker. A witness can testify to what someone said, but not what that person was thinking.

After the mistrial was declared, Ebelia Rodriguez, Bustamante’s mother, threw her purse at Davis, shouting to him to admit to what he did. Bailiffs restrained her husband, Richard Bustamante, as he lunged across the courtroom benches at Davis.

Hunter ruled the couple could remain in the courtroom during this trial, but must stay in a back row and be accompanied by a plainclothes Lake Wales police officer. They are expected to attend the trial beginning next week, family members said Tuesday.

Davis told his lawyers Tuesday that he wasn’t feeling well, but could continue with the day’s proceedings.

Davis also is charged with first-degree murder for the shooting deaths of two clerks at a convenience store near Lake Alfred about a week before the Lake Wales attack. That case is expected to go to trial later this year. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in that case as well. Together, the two crimes represent the worst killing rampage in Polk County history.

[ Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at suzie.schottelkotte@theledger.com or 533-9070.]


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