Spc. Ivette Davila reported seeing flashes of light, hearing strange voices and believing people were walking on the roof of her cell. She also called blood-stained sheets “yucky,” peppered letters with childish cartoon-like drawings and had a tendency to zone out.
The Fort Lewis soldier, defense lawyers said, doesn’t fit the description of a cold-blooded assassin – or perhaps even someone with an awareness of what she was doing when she killed two fellow soldiers last year.
“(There are) almost no answers in the area of sanity,” Maj. Carol Brewer said in the closing arguments of Davila’s Article 32 hearing Tuesday at Fort Lewis.
Davila is charged with killing Staff Sgt. Timothy Miller and Sgt. Randi Miller in their Parkland home March 2, 2008, trying to dispose of their bodies by soaking them with muriatic acid and kidnapping their 7-month-old daughter.
The defense conceded many facts of the case but said the two counts of premeditated murder – which could carry the death penalty – weren’t appropriate. And they alleged government interference derailed her chance at fully investigating mitigating circumstances.
Davila, a 23-year-old California native who was serving with the I Corps honor guard, also faces charges of kidnapping, burglary and obstruction of justice. An Article 32 hearing is the military equivalent of a grand-jury investigation. The investigating officer, Lt. Col. Andrew Efaw, will weigh the testimony and evidence and recommend what charges should be referred to a general court-martial.
Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis, acting post commander, will review the recommendations and have the final say on the charges and whether to pursue the death penalty. The process could take several weeks.
Both sides argued Tuesday about Davila’s mental capacity. Defense lawyers pointed to “junior high”-like behavior: the cartoons in letters, calling the evidence “yucky” and making serious distinctions about whether the Millers were her best friends or just good friends.
Brewer said questions about her mental responsibility remain unanswered because a second examination was authorized but never carried out.
And Davila’s confession to a fellow soldier hours after the attack, call to the police and another confession to her cellmate at Pierce County Jail shows someone who didn’t quite comprehend what she did, Brewer argued.
“She called the police and told them she was a horrible person,” she said. “She believed she was going to hell. She told them she believed she was possessed and didn’t believe what happened.”
Government attorney Capt. Grady Leupold cautioned Efaw not to be fooled.
“She was an extraordinarily lethal assassin, who coldly, methodically and deliberately executed Staff Sgt. Miller and his wife, Sgt. Miller,” he said in his closing arguments. “They so underestimated her that they never believed that they would end up bullet-ridden and submerged in muriatic acid in their bathtub.”
But defense lawyers said Davila didn’t plan the crime in advance. She could have fled the scene but instead chose to return to the barracks with the Millers’ baby, Brewer said. And she bought the muriatic acid hours after she killed them; it would make more sense to stock up before a crime, Brewer added.
The defense also alleged prosecution wrongdoing during the run-up to the hearing. Brewer made reference to government agents falsely identifying themselves to the Davila family as working for the defense but collecting information that could be used against the defendant.
The majority of that discussion took place before the hearing began. Brewer declined to provide more details without her chain of command’s approval.
Brewer also said that she wasn’t allowed to meet with her client at Fort Lewis. At Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, where Davila was kept in pre-trial confinement, the room in which they met wasn’t soundproof, Brewer said.
Maj. James Towery, Davila’s company commander, said he offered defense lawyers a vehicle and reimbursement for fuel and tolls. But he was thinking primarily about safety and resources.
“It wasn’t worth a soldier getting shanked or stabbed,” Towery said
But given the possibility of the death penalty, Brewer said, the Army should have tried harder. “Spc. Davila has been robbed of a fully funded defense team fighting for her life,” she said.
Life in the brig
Spc. Ivette Davila has been held at the brig at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor since being transferred to military custody in March 2008 year. But what has the 23-year-old California native been doing since then?
Apparently a lot of praying. Davila watched a Christian channel on television and is often reading the Bible, testified Petty Officer 1st Class James Rogers, who works at the brig and talks to Davila several times each week.
“She can recite the Bible,” which she often reads when she’s particularly upset, Rogers said.
Davila also attends the three prayer services held at the brig each week, listens to music and completes puzzles. Davila also reorganized the brig’s library by subject and attends mandatory classes on subjects like anger and stress management.
She also seems to interact well with other detainees, he said.
“If I had to compare her to other confinees,” Rogers said, “I’d say she’s doing considerably well.”