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Robert Davis

Other Virginia Plea Cases
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On February 19, 2003, firefighters responded to a fire at a house on Cling Lane in Crozet, Virginia. On the second floor, the body of 41-year-old Nola Annette Charles was found duct-taped to a bed, with her throat slashed. In another bedroom, her three-year-old son, William, was found dead from smoke inhalation. Charles’s two daughters, Wendie, 16, and Katie, 8, had escaped from their first floor bedrooms.

Police recovered a charred kitchen knife from Charles’s back, but were unable to find evidence pointing to any suspects, such as fingerprints or biological material that could provide DNA for testing. There were no witnesses. An autopsy showed that Charles died from multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma to her head.

Police began interviewing neighbors and two days later, investigators spoke to 19-year-old William “Rocky” Fugett, Jr., who lived across the street from the Charles house. Fugett implicated himself, his 15-year-old sister Jessica, and 18-year-old Robert Davis, who lived down the street from the Fugett home.

Detectives then interviewed Jessica Fugett, who implicated herself, her brother, Davis and two other youths. She led the police to a field behind the Charles home where, buried in snow, was the pipe used to bludgeon Nola Charles along with a key to the Charles house and another knife. The pipe had Charles’s blood on it.

Just after midnight on February 22, 2003, after Rocky and Jessica Fugett confessed, police arrested Davis, who was a special education student. From approximately 1:00 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., Davis, who had been up since 7:00 a.m. the day before, denied any involvement. Shortly before 7:00 a.m., after complaining of being tired, scared and cold, Davis confessed to participating in the murders.

Over the next several months, Rocky Fugett gave six interviews to the police and each time, he gave a different account. In his last version, he said for the first time that Charles’s 16-year-old daughter, Wendie, was awake and walking around the downstairs shortly after the upstairs murder and before the fire was started. Wendie and her eight-year-old sister Katie had told police they were asleep in their first floor bedrooms when a neighbor who saw smoke coming from the roof banged on the front door.

Police charged Rocky and Jessica Fugett and Davis with first-degree murder, arson, and breaking and entering. A fourth youth also was arrested, but the charges against him were dismissed six months later after he refused to confess and police could not disprove his alibi.

According to the statements of Rocky and Jessica Fugett, Davis was with them when they went into the house and tied down Nola Charles with duct tape. They slashed her throat twice, stabbed her twice, and struck her on the head two or three times. They disabled two smoke detectors and set the fire with nail polish remover. They stole $6 and fled.

In November 2003, Rocky Fugett pled guilty to first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Davis’s attorney, Steve Rosenfield, challenged Davis’s confession as coerced and false. Dr. Jeffrey Aaron, a forensic psychologist, testified that several factors, including Davis’s age and mental handicap strongly suggested that he had falsely confessed. The motion to suppress the confession was denied. On April 19, 2004, Davis entered an Alford plea (allowing him to maintain his claim of innocence while admitting the prosecution had evidence sufficient to convict him) to the first-degree murder of Nola Charles and the second-degree murder of William Charles. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Initially, Jessica Fugett, who said she was a devotee of Wicca and a witch, was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. But by the fall of 2005, she was deemed competent and stood trial in Albemarle County Circuit Court by a judge who heard the case without a jury. Jessica was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, arson and breaking and entering. She was sentenced to 100 years in prison.

In April 2006, Rocky Fugett wrote a letter to Davis’s attorney, Rosenfield, recanting his testimony implicating Davis and admitting he had lied. Subsequently, during an interview with two journalists, Fugett again admitted that he had falsely implicated Davis. “He wasn’t there during any of this whole situation—not in the slightest,” Fugett said. He said that he had beaten up Davis several times in the past and didn’t get along with him.

In 2012, Rosenfield filed a lengthy petition seeking clemency from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. The petition cited Rocky Fugett’s recantation as well as a 64-page report from the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth at Northwestern University of School of Law in Chicago that outlined why Davis’s confession was false.

By that time, Jessica Fugett also had recanted. In a letter to Rosenfield in November 2012, she said, “That was not the truth, and I’ve now come to understand I was very wrong in this.”

In December 2015, Gov. Terry McAuliffe granted Davis a conditional pardon—commuting his prison sentence to time served. On December 15, 2015, Davis was released from prison.

On December 16, 2016, McAuliffe granted Davis a full pardon based on actual innocence.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 12/29/2016
State:Virginia
County:Albemarle
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:23 years
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:18
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No