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Davila faces death penalty

Post by Scott Fontaine on March 8, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
March 8, 2010 4:29 pm
Spc. Ivette Davila

The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier accused of killing two of her comrades, trying to burn their bodies with acid and kidnapping their baby will face the death penalty at her court-martial.

Spc. Ivette Davila of Bakersfield, Calif., faces two specifications of premeditated murder for the March 2, 2008, slayings of Staff Sgt. Timothy Miller and Sgt. Randi Miller in the married couple’s Parkland home.

Davila also faces charges of burglary, kidnapping and obstruction of justice, Lewis-McChord announced Monday. No trial date has been set.

It will be the first capital case at Fort Lewis in recent memory, if ever.

Spc. Jamaal A. Lewis originally faced capital punishment for killing two people outside a Lakewood tavern on Labor Day 2005, but then-post commander Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik changed his mind about potential execution. Lewis was later sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Capital punishment in the military remains rare; the last time a service member was executed was in 1961. Eight service members are on death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

A guilty verdict for the eligible crime must be unanimous, and at least one aggravating factor must exist and outweigh any extenuating circumstances for the death penalty to be imposed. An example of an aggravating factor would be the defendant facing two specifications of the same capital-punishment-eligible crime, a base spokesman said.

If Davila is convicted of premeditated murder but spared the death penalty, she faces a minimum sentence of life in prison.

Brig. Gen. Jeff Mathis, the Lewis-McChord commander while I Corps is deployed to Iraq, made the decision to pursue the death penalty late last week. The base’s public affairs said the general wasn’t available for an interview because he will be called upon to take future action in the case.

Prosecutors say Davila, who served with the I Corps honor guard, started the night of March 1 by meeting friends at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma to create an alibi. She left the casino in a cab hours later, planted a bag containing a pistol at the Millers’ home and met the couple at Club Silverstone in Tacoma.

She returned to Parkland with the Millers in the early morning hours, prosecutors said. Later that morning, she entered their bedroom, shot Randi Miller twice in the head and then beat her to death.

She then went to the shower, where she shot Timothy Miller four times, and then walked closer and shot him twice at point-blank range, prosecutors said.

She then drove to a nearby Lowe’s, purchased the acid and tried to burn both bodies in the shower. Prosecutors said she took the Millers’ daughter, Kassidy, and planned to drop her at an orphanage. But first she brought the child to the barracks, where she told friends she was baby-sitting the child.

A fellow I Corps soldier testified he noticed Davila seemed quiet. When he asked what was wrong, he testified Davila said she “hurt people bad, that she was going to hell, that she was going to jail.”

The soldier, Sgt. Aaron Nelson, said Davila then admitted to shooting two people and taking their baby. He persuaded her to call police, and she was arrested that afternoon.

Pierce County authorities transferred jurisdiction of the case to the military, and Davila has been held at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor since her arrest.

The defense didn’t dispute many of the facts of what happened that night during Davila’s Article 32 hearing in December but called into question her mental capacity. During the hearing, the military equivalent of a grand-jury proceeding, defense lawyers pointed to “junior high”-like behavior, including calling the bedsheets stained with the Millers’ blood “yucky,” peppering letters with childish cartoon-like drawings and zoning out frequently.

And after she was taken into custody, the soldier reported seeing flashes of light, hearing strange voices and believing people were walking on the roof of her cell.

Government attorneys, though, argued Davila was a cold-blooded killer.

“She was an extraordinarily lethal assassin, who coldly, methodically and deliberately executed Staff Sgt. Miller and his wife, Sgt. Miller,” Capt. Grady Leupold said in 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.”

Defense lawyers also complained during the Article 32 hearing that Davila had been denied the opportunity to travel to Fort Lewis to work on her defense and with various experts assigned to the case.

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