Supreme Court upholds death penalty in 1997 murder

SEATTLE — The Washington Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for a man convicted of randomly killing and raping a 65-year-old woman while her disabled husband was in the house.

The court issued its decision Thursday on Cecil Davis’ appeal stemming from his conviction in the 1997 slaying of Yoshiko Couch.

Davis had appealed the death sentence because jurors saw him in shackles during his first trail. In 2004, the Supreme Court vacated his sentence and Davis was retried in 2007, when he again was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Justices Mary Fairhurst and Charles Wiggins dissented from the ruling Thursday, saying while Davis’ crime was brutal, similar crimes have been punished with life in prison without chance of parole and not the death sentence.

They say the sentence highlights “the random and arbitrary nature of the imposition of the death penalty in Washington,” Wiggins wrote.

Wiggins also said he dissented because he thinks there is a race factor in the sentencing.

“A review of the reports of prosecutions for aggravated first-degree murder quickly discloses that African-American defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty than Caucasian defendants,” he wrote.

Davis is African-American.

According to the court, Davis was partying with a friend outside his mother’s house in Tacoma when he told his friend he wanted to “rob somebody” and wanted to kill a person. Davis along with a friend crossed the street and kicked in Couch’s front door.

Davis proceeded to beat the woman and sexually assault her. At that point, his friend left, according to court documents.

Later on, friends found Couch dead in her bathtub, naked from the waist down. An autopsy found that Couch had been suffocated and died of exposure to chemicals.

Her husband, Richard Couch, had been downstairs in the home the entire time. Because a number of strokes, he wasn’t able to walk and a telephone that usually sat by his bed had been moved to a closet and he couldn’t reach it. Investigators found extensive evidence connecting the killing to Davis, including blood, hair and fingerprints. Davis had also taken Yoshiko Couch’s wedding ring and he attempted to sell it to his mother.

Prosecutors also said that after Davis was in jail, he told a cellmate he killed Couch, but not raped her.

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