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Verle Mangum

Other Colorado Exonerations
On the morning of February 16, 1996, a landlord found the bodies of 42-year-old Janet Davis and her daughter, 11-year-old Jennifer Davis, in their apartment in Clifton, Colorado, near the city of Grand Junction. An autopsy later reported that they had been beaten to death. A medical examiner placed their time of death around the night of February 14 or early morning of February 15.

A woman in Grand Junction had found Janet Davis’s car on the morning of February 15. She looked inside the car for information on an owner, then wiped her fingerprints off the door handles after she was done, potentially destroying evidence.

The Mesa County Sheriff’s Department led the investigation, and quickly focused on Davis’s ex-husband, Jacob Kent Davis, who lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas. After their marriage ended, the Davises had each filed for restraining orders, and Jacob Davis had been convicted of child abuse in 1993. He was arrested in Arkansas on June 27, 1996, and charged with the murders of his ex-wife and their daughter.

On January 10, 1997, the Mesa County District Attorney dismissed the charges after investigators found problems with a witness statement.

More than four years later, in April 2001, a therapist with the Mesa County Department of Human Services told the sheriff’s department that she might have information about the murders.

The therapist said that one of her clients had told her that her estranged husband, Verle Mangum, had confessed to killing Davis and her daughter. The Mangums had also jointly seen the therapist in 1998. Verle Mangum, now 22 years old, knew the Davis family well, and he had been questioned in the initial investigation.

When the therapist came forward, Verle Mangum lived in St. George, Utah. Deputies learned he was returning to Grand Junction on May 5 to pick up his young son. Deputies received a court order to take “non-testimonial evidence” from Mangum and stopped his car that night. He obeyed an officer’s request to get out of his vehicle and was told that the officers wanted to talk to him about the Davis murders.

Mangum ran off. The deputies gave chase, cornered Mangum, and ordered him at gunpoint to surrender. Mangum sliced his throat several times, and the deputies sprayed him with pepper spray before taking him into custody and handcuffing him.

Paramedics arrived, but an officer delayed treatment in order to talk with Mangum. Another officer told Mangum that he wasn’t under arrest; the handcuffs were for his protection.

The officer said that Mangum said he had “screwed up” his life. The officer consoled Mangum and told him that it was important to take responsibility for one’s actions. The officer said Mangum then gave details of the murders.

Still in handcuffs, Mangum went by ambulance to the hospital, with an officer by his side asking questions. He continued to answer those questions. At the hospital, Mangum was again told the handcuffs were for his protection and that he was not under arrest. Several hours later, Mangum was taken to the sheriff’s department, where deputies drew his blood and took his fingerprints. Only then was he formally arrested and charged with two counts of murder, child abuse, and sexual assault of a child.

Prior to trial, Mangum moved to suppress the statements he made to the sheriff’s deputies. His attorney said that Mangum was in custody after he was placed in handcuffs, and the totality of his situation required deputies to read Mangum his Miranda rights. Judge Nicholas Massaro of Mesa County District Court agreed. The state appealed, arguing that the deputies held a “good faith” belief that they lacked probable cause to arrest Mangum at the time he made the statements, some of which were in response to questions and others which Mangum just volunteered.

The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the ruling on June 24, 2002. It said Mangum was clearly in custody, and neither state nor federal law recognized a “good faith exception” to violating his Miranda rights.

Mangum’s jury trial began in January 2003. The state presented no physical or forensic evidence connecting him to the crime scene, instead building its case around statements that Mangum’s now ex-wife and others said he had made in the years after the murder.

Shawna Mangum, now Shawna Cross, said that Mangum had confessed to her in the summer of 2000, after he became upset at a party. They argued when they arrived home, Cross said, and Mangum said, “When I was 16, I killed a little girl and her mother.”

According to Cross, who divorced Mangum in August 2002, Mangum said that on February 14, 1996, he had left a party and gone to the Davis home to look for Davis’s older daughter, whom he dated. She wasn’t home. Janet Davis was working, and Jennifer invited Mangum inside. Cross said Mangum told her that Janet Davis came home and found Mangum and Jennifer having sex. Mangum said he was high on methamphetamine and panicked after Janet Davis said she was going to call the police. She said he told her that he picked up a baseball bat by the door. “He said he was going to knock her out so he could run,” Cross said.

Later, according to Cross, Mangum said he found Jennifer hiding in her bedroom and hit her with the bat until she stopped moving. Cross said that Mangum told her he took Janet Davis’s purse and car keys in an effort to make the crime scene look like a robbery.

Three other women, including the therapist, also testified that Cross had told them about Mangum’s statements. Mangum’s attorneys objected to the testimony as hearsay, but Judge Massaro overruled the objection based on the consistency of their testimony. One of the women had received $1,000 from Crime Stoppers after she called law enforcement shortly before Mangum’s arrest.

Two of Mangum’s friends also testified. Bobby Eatherton said Mangum confessed not long after the murders and said he threw the baseball bat into a canal. Under cross-examination, Eatherton said it was possible that Mangum was just making a false claim to counter Eatherton’s boast about getting in a bar fight. The other friend, Jason Lee, said Mangum told him that a baseball bat was used in the murders.

Separately, a woman named Molly Dill testified that she had kicked Mangum out of her party on February 14, 1996. At the time, Dill said, Mangum was not his usual quiet self. A few days later, Dill said, Mangum returned and told her that “he had done something really bad.” He did not go into details.

Three men who were with Mangum in the Mesa County Jail testified that Mangum confessed to them on separate occasions. They also said that Mangum told them that he tried to kill himself after the deputies pulled him over because he did not want to go to jail. According to Calvin Carr, Mangum said, “I should have died. I shouldn’t have killed those people.”

Mangum’s defense attorneys, Colleen Scissors and Richard Gurley, tried to discredit these statements. Carr, for example, received a sentence reduction in exchange for his testimony.

Mangum did not testify, in part to avoid the introduction of his suppressed statements. His attorneys attempted to show that Jacob Davis was still a viable suspect. A man who was in jail with Davis after his arrest testified that Davis told him that the first-degree murder charge was improper, because “I didn’t plan it.”

Larry Mangum testified that he and his brother were together on the night of February 14, 1996. A defense investigator also testified that Dill told her that Mangum returned to the party after he was kicked out.

Agents with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had collected hair samples from Davis’s home and car, with the goal of performing DNA analysis. Mangum was excluded as a contributor to the car samples. The home samples were not tested by the time of the trial, which an agent with CBI’s crime laboratory testified was due to a lack of resources.

On January 29, 2003, the jury convicted Mangum of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death. Mangum was acquitted of sexual assault. He later received a sentence of life without parole for the first-degree murder conviction, and a 48-year prison sentence, to run consecutively, for the second-degree murder conviction. He also received a 25-year sentence on the child abuse conviction, to run concurrently with the second-degree murder sentence.

Mangum appealed. He argued that his communications with his then-wife were privileged and that the judge improperly allowed evidence from the therapist to be used, because those statements were also privileged. Separately, he claimed the 48-year prison sentence was excessive.

The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction on August 9, 2007. It said Mangum’s marital privilege didn’t apply in this case because the crime took place before the marriage. It also said that Judge Massaro did not err in allowing the therapist to testify. At the time the therapist contacted law enforcement, Mangum was no longer her client. It also said that the sentence, although at the top end of the guidelines, was proper, based on two aggravating factors: Jennifer’s age, and Mangum’s willingness to let Jacob Davis take the fall for his crime. Although Mangum was 17 years old at the time of the murders, his age wasn’t a sufficient mitigating factor.

In 2011, Mangum filed a motion for a new trial, claiming his attorneys provided ineffective assistance. He also sought DNA testing of several items either found at the crime scene or in Davis’s car. According to the motion, his attorneys had failed to properly investigate his alibi, misinterpreted DNA evidence, and failed to present expert testimony about why people can confess to crimes they did not commit.

After the trial, Gurley had become a judge in Mesa County. To avoid a conflict of interest, the case was assigned to Judge James Boyd in nearby Garfield County. Judge Boyd held several days of hearings in 2018. Mangum testified at the hearing. He denied killing Janet and Jennifer Davis and said that his attorneys didn’t listen to his request to take the stand. He said it was important that jurors heard why he had made these statements to other witnesses.

Prior to the trial, the state had disclosed a DNA report to Mangum’s defense. The attorneys believed it showed Mangum’s DNA had been found on a comforter in Jennifer’s bedroom. But the report was actually from an unrelated case. Because of that mistake, the attorneys tried to “bury” the report and presented no evidence or made any arguments about the absence of Mangum’s DNA at the house. Post-conviction testing found Mangum’s DNA on a flashlight in Davis’s car. Mangum testified he didn’t know how it got there, but said he and Davis’s son used flashlights to help find coins to fish out of fountains in downtown Grand Junction.

At the hearing, Gurley testified that during pre-trial preparations, Mangum confessed to him that he hit Jennifer Davis. (Mangum had testified earlier that he made no such statement.) Gurley said that limited his ability to allow Mangum to testify, because he would be required to disclose this statement if Mangum testified to the contrary.

On April 4, 2019, Judge Boyd granted Mangum’s motion and ordered a new trial. The ruling said that Scissors and Gurley had been ineffective in their representation, mishandling the DNA evidence and not vigorously challenging the witnesses who said Mangum confessed or explaining the mechanisms of a false confession. Judge Boyd also said the attorneys didn’t conduct timely interviews with many of the attendees at Dill’s party, several of whom said they saw Mangum return, and their late notice of this alibi evidence allowed prosecutors to successfully move for its exclusion.

Judge Boyd also said that there were significant inconsistencies in the witness statements about Mangum’s confessions. He noted the jury didn’t believe his supposed confession to a sexual assault, and there was no evidence that the assault took place.

Judge Boyd said that Scissors and Gurley had conflicting memories on whether Mangum had wanted to testify. Gurley, who testified that Mangum gave a partial confession, said Mangum hadn’t. Scissors said he had. She also testified that Gurley told her that he had thought that Mangum was about to confess, but he stopped him from doing so.

“From the opposite memories emerges the ineffective assistance,” Judge Boyd wrote. “Though working as co-counsel, on this topic the preponderance of the evidence shows them working in silos.”

The state appealed, and the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling on June 24, 2021. “As the post-conviction court pointed out, while ‘the confession evidence will remain significant’ in any retrial of this case, Mangum ‘has a meaningful route to argue his confessions were false’ in light of the inconsistencies between the confessions, the inconsistencies between the confessions and the crime scene evidence, the apparently false confessions to sexual assault, and the expert evidence Mangum might present supporting the theory of false confessions.”

Mangum remained incarcerated. The case returned to Mesa County on August 20, 2021. On February 23, 2022, Mangum moved to dismiss his case, citing a failure of prosecutors to comply with state law requiring a trial within six months of entering of a plea, unless the defense asks for or agrees to a continuance. Judge Boyd granted the dismissal on March 28, 2022.

The state appealed, arguing that Boyd had misinterpreted the law, and that the clock didn’t start ticking until Mangum entered a new plea.

The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal on September 29, 2022. The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the law didn’t require Mangum to enter a new plea. The deadline was the deadline, the court said, and Mesa County had missed it.

The state turned to the Colorado Supreme Court, which ruled on March 27, 2023, that it would not hear the appeal.

Mangum was released from the Mesa County Jail on March 29, 2023.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 9/19/2023
Last Updated: 9/19/2023
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Murder, Child Abuse
Reported Crime Date:1996
Sentence:Life without parole
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No