Davenport indictment should be remanded

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 18, 2010

A third trial in Warren County Circuit Court for Dane Davenport is ill-advised.

Last week Attorney General Jim Hood, whose staff has prosecuted indictments here and in Oktibbeha County against the 47-year-old Vicksburg resident, affirmed prosecutors will try again for convictions, probably in 2011. Hood should reconsider, and remand the remaining charges until or unless Davenport is charged with additional criminality.

There can be no more intense emotional wringer than all participants in this case, including jurors in previous trials, have undergone. That’s because there are no more serious or heinous accusations than child sexual battery and molestation.

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Davenport, a master sergeant and 17-year trooper for the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol, has been acquitted of all charges in Oktibbeha County after two trials there. Here, after a jury deadlocked on all allegations in September 2008, another jury in March acquitted him of five of the nine counts in the local indictment.

Remaining are accusations of two youths, who are brothers, that they were fondled in October 1999, July 2003, November 2005 and November or December 2005.

A member of the March jury, after hearing of Hood’s decision, said she was surprised and, we think, summed it up. Without witnesses, an accusation of improper touching comes down to one person’s word against another’s, she said. The standard for a criminal conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a unanimous jury is required and, further, this case has the additional element of a separate, business-related animus between Davenport and the boys’ mother.

Hood would not comment on how common it is to try a defendant a third time. We can say with assurance it’s very rare. He also wouldn’t comment on the cost, which is bound to be substantial to the state and to Davenport, who has had a staff of private attorneys.

Beyond the measures of emotion and expense, there are two questions that prosecutors have the difficult task of giving equal weight in every case. (1) Is there a substantial basis to believe a defendant is guilty? (2) Can the state prove it?

Few cases have attracted as much speculation and comment and heartfelt beliefs as the indictments faced by Dane Davenport. It’s a tragedy for all involved, but there’s no reason to believe a third group of jurors will reach a different conclusion.