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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Opening statements were never made in Howard Davidson's first-degree murder trial. The trial never got that far because prosecutors reached a settlement with Davidson when court was in recess for lunch on Wednesday.
Davidson pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence. He could have been sentenced to as much as life had he been convicted of first-degree murder.
“Very,” Davidson attorney Michael Ritter said, when asked was he pleased with the deal.
Davidson was accused of shooting Michael Fair to death in May 2005 during a melee. The fight and shooting were caught on videotape.
The plea only requires Davidson to serve 35 percent of the 10-year sentence.
“He'll be eligible for release, we think, in approximately two years and maybe two months,” Ritter said.
Davidson doesn't have to start serving his sentence until Dec. 26.
The state said Davidson's wife and co-defendant, Mary Davidson, sicced a German shepherd on Fair during the incident. She pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in exchange for a two-year suspended sentence and judicial diversion.
Attorneys for both the prosecution and the defense spent the morning questioning potential jurors. Some were dismissed by Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood. Others were dismissed after the attorneys exercised their peremptory challenges.
When court broke for lunch, only 11 potential jurors were sitting in the jury box and no one else was in the courtroom to choose from.
Blackwood said one solution to that problem was going to Wal-Mart to round up some potential jurors.
“He was serious about going to Wal-Mart,” Special prosecutor Patrick Cooley said.
Michael Farley, the attorney for Mary Davidson, said he didn't like that idea.
“That's not really a good thing,” Farley said. “You go to Wal-Mart, and you're shopping, and the next thing you know, you're picked up by the police and brought in to be a juror.”
Rather than risk another delay in the case or having to choose from some unhappy jurors, the sides negotiated the settlement during lunch.
“I think all parties took into consideration the risk of it being delayed because this case has been delayed several times,” Farley said. “I think all parties were wanting a resolution to it. That may have helped it come to an agreement.”
Ritter said the deal was similar to one Howard Davidson turned down at a hearing in July. During that hearing Blackwood told all the parties that he wasn't going to accept anymore plea deals.
“That's what the judge did say, but then again, a judge is the lead figure, and he's got a right to do anything he wants to,” Ritter said. “He's the No. 1 figure in our judicial system, and I respect anything they say or do.”
Cooley, who was hired by Fair's mother to assist in the prosecution of the case, said he thought the settlement was fair.
“There are no winners here,” Cooley said.
Fair's mother, Betty Woody, declined comment as she left the courtroom.