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Appeals Court Lets Second-Degree Murder Conviction Stand In Drunk Driving Crash

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About 8:30 one warm evening in June two years ago York County Deputy Tim Davidson was on the shoulder of Highway 321 writing up a ticket for a traffic violation. As he was speaking with the motorist, an F-350 dually passed by headed toward the North Carolina border. As Trooper Davidson looked on, the dually ran off the road, struck down a highway sign, and continued driving.

Just over the border in North Carolina, Warren Ray, his wife Victoria and daughter Melissa were on their way to South Carolina. Warren was driving Melissa’s S-10. Melissa was riding shotgun and Vicky was in the jump seat. Each of the Rays was wearing a seat belt.

Mr. Ray stopped at a stop sign getting ready to turn southbound onto Highway 321. At that moment the Ford dually veered from the road, across a grassy area and hit the Rays’ S-10.

The crash was so severe it “knocked [the S-10] straight up and it hit the caution sign and then it just landed back down and flipped over.”

When Melissa Ray regained consciousness she was trapped in her truck. Her father’s lifeless body was on top of her, covered in blood. Her mother lay dead nearby. Melissa said it “felt like hours” before the firefighters could cut open her truck and she could climb past her father’s body to get out.

James Davis, the driver of the dually, stayed in his truck until emergency personnel arrived. He then got out of his truck. He was not seriously injured. He said he had not been drinking. Alcohol tests showed otherwise. An expert determined Mr. Davis’ alcohol level at the time of the collision was 0.13. There were no skid marks or any other indication that Mr. Davis attempted to brake or turn to avoid the crash.

A jury found Mr. Davis guilty of DWI and other charges including two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of Melissa Ray’s parents.

Mr. Davis appealed the second-degree murder charges. He argued that there was no evidence of malice — a required element of second-degree murder.

In a ruling issued on Tuesday (July 7, 2009), the North Carolina Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court said the prosecution did not have to show Mr. Davis had a specific intent to kill. Rather the Court held that the State only had to prove that Mr. Davis “had the intent to perform the act of driving in such a reckless manner as reflects knowledge that injury or death would likely result.” State of North Carolina v. James Michael Davis, No. COA08-1318.

The Court pointed out that there was evidence that Mr. Davis:

  • Drank nine to twelve beers in a two-hour timeframe;
  • Denied drinking following the crash;
  • Drove his truck on a highway after drinking;
  • Ran over a sign and continued driving even though he should have known at this point he was a danger to the safety of others;
  • Continued driving while weaving side to side; and
  • Ran off the road and crashed into the Rays truck without braking or attempting to avoid the collision.

The Court of Appeals determined this evidence was enough to support the jury’s finding of malice and Mr. Davis’ convictions for second-degree murder. Mr. Davis’ sentence, originally handed down by the trial court, stands at 40-52 years.

About the Editors: Egerton & Associates, P.A., is a personal injury law firm based in North Carolina’s Piedmont region with offices in Greensboro, Asheboro and Kernersville.