Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty for Oklahoma Man


The United States Supreme Court rejected without comment the appeal of Brian Darrell Davis, sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend’s mother. This rejection of his appeal by the nation’s highest court signals the end of his appeals, having exhausted all avenues of post-conviction relief.

Davis was convicted of the 2001 rape and murder of Josephine “Jody” Sanford in Ponca City. He was sentenced to death for First Degree Murder and sentenced to 100 years in prison for First Degree Rape.

According to court documents, Davis returned home in the early hours of November 4, 2001, after a night of drinking with friends at a local club. When he arrived, he discovered that his girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter were not home. He allegedly called his girlfriend’s mother looking for them, and when she could not find them, she went to the apartment Davis shared with his girlfriend.

Davis gave at least six versions of what happened after she arrived, first saying he could not remember anything, then providing several different versions in which Sanford instigated a fight for varying reasons and he stabbed her as a result. He first denied any consensual or non-consensual sex with Sanford, but when confronted with DNA evidence, he said that the pair had consensual sex after he attempted to console her about her husband’s infidelity.

After the rape and murder, Davis took Sanford’s van and was involved in a serious single-vehicle accident in which he was ejected through the windshield of the vehicle. His blood alcohol concentration was 0.09 percent. He was hospitalized in serious condition.

At approximately 9:00 a.m., Davis’s girlfriend returned to the couple’s apartment, where she found her mother’s body. Davis was questioned around 6:00 that evening, and denied remembering anything about the incident. Two days later, on subsequent interview, he gave his first version of the events that transpired in the early hours of November 4.

After his conviction, Davis attempted several appeals.

In 2004, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld his conviction and sentence, which he appealed on nine propositions of error, including the non-disclosure of rebuttal witnesses, jury instruction on circumstantial evidence and lesser included offenses, admission of evidence he believed protected by marital privilege, and others. The state court of appeals ruled against each proposition and upheld the death penalty in the case: “Upon reviewing the record, we find that the aggravating circumstance outweighed the mitigating circumstances and that Davis' death sentence is factually substantiated and appropriate. Accordingly, the Judgment and Sentence of the trial court is AFFIRMED.”

In 2005, Davis sought post-conviction relief in The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, raising five propositions of error. According to the Capital Post-Conviction Procedure Act, 22 O.S.Supp.2004, § 1089(C)(1) & (2), only claims that were not and could not have been raised in a direct appeal, that support a conclusion that the outcome of the trial would have been different but for the errors, or that the defendant is factually innocent can be raised. The appeals court denied his application for post-conviction relief.

In 2012, the 10th Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals issued a Certificate of Appealability (COA) on two claims: whether his statements to police during his hospitalization were “knowing, intelligent, and voluntary,” and whether his counsel was ineffective in failing to present scientific evidence that he was impaired while making those statements. Davis claims he was coerced into making a statement indicating guilt because police withheld pain medication until he confessed. Despite issuing a COA on two claims, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the previous court’s ruling.

Seldom is a criminal conviction the end of a case—particularly if significant errors led to a wrongful conviction or unjust sentence. Appeals and post-conviction relief may be available, and the loss of an early appeal still allows an appellant to proceed with subsequent appeals. To find an appellate lawyer for a criminal appeal in Oklahoma, visit the website of attorney Adam R. Banner to submit a confidential case review form.

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