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Bird Court Voided Death for Killer : Must 'Honda Dave' Die? New Penalty Trial Is Due

February 05, 1989|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

His friends called him "Honda Dave," and every day at his murder trial 8 years ago his bright red-and-white Honda 350 sat in front of the judge's bench.

It was the key evidence against him, and a grim reminder of the murder of a woman in a vacant Irvine field. Honda Dave--John Galen Davenport--became the only defendant from Orange County ever sent to San Quentin's Death Row for murder with torture.

But this week, he is back.

Davenport's is the last of the four Orange County death sentences reversed by the state Supreme Court under then-Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird. Davenport won a new penalty trial because of "jury instruction errors." The other three men have already been retried, given new death sentences and returned to Death Row.

Davenport, now 34, recognizes that the fate of the other three may signal his own.

"I know how tough it will be; and I know the jurors may hold my past against me," said Davenport, now at the Orange County Jail. "I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of."

The focus at his new penalty trial will not only be on the woman he killed, but on the woman he tried to kill but couldn't. Suzanne Tewes, stabbed by Davenport 22 times when he broke into her home in 1974, will return to court to relive that attack for a new jury in an effort to persuade them that the man should die.

This jury will have only one decision to make: whether to return a new death verdict for Davenport, or give him life in prison without parole.

The state Supreme Court upheld Davenport's murder conviction for the March 27, 1980, stabbing death of 30-year-old Gayle Anne Lingle.

Lingle and Davenport were seen leaving together at the Sit 'n Bull bar in Tustin about 1 a.m. on the morning she was killed. A few hours later, state transportation workers found her body in a vacant field at Myford Road and Michelle Drive in Irvine.

Stabbed 16 Times

She was nude, with a sweater draped over her. She had been stabbed 16 times and had a gaping wound in her neck. Most horrifying to the workers who found her, she had been impaled by a 4-foot-long, square-ended wooden stake with protruding nails. Experts have testified that she was still alive at the time.

A jail inmate testified at the first trial that Davenport told him that he had tried to cut the victim's head off. When his knife was too small for that, he tried to hang her on the stake "like a scarecrow."

The stake was a critical issue because the jury's finding of torture was a prerequisite for returning a death verdict against Davenport.

But the most damaging evidence was his beloved Honda.

Davenport had two kinds of tires on the motorcycle, each with a unique tread. Both treads, almost on top of each other, were cleanly reproduced in plaster casts by crime lab specialists from prints found at the scene where Lingle's body was discovered.

Tire Print Matched

Even more definitive, an expert testified that a defect found in one print could have come only from two or three tires inadvertently sent to the United States by a British tire company. That print was a perfect match to a defect on one of Davenport's Honda tires.

The Supreme Court's reversal of Davenport's death sentence on Dec. 31, 1985, angered many of his first jurors.

One of them, William L. Chadwick of La Habra, has described it as "one of the greatest injustices I have ever seen." Another, George Siegel of Westminster, predicted that no jury that hears the same testimony can come up with a penalty other than death.

"It was simply the most gruesome crime imaginable," the first prosecutor, Anthony J. Rackauckas Jr., said.

At Davenport's new trial, the Honda will no longer be center stage, because guilt will not be an issue.

The focus will be on Suzanne Tewes. She was asleep in her Tustin apartment on Sept. 17, 1974, when Davenport broke in after midnight. She fought him off despite his constant slashings with a knife. When she kicked him in the groin, he ran. He was arrested a short time later.

Tewes was left with impaired vision in one eye and numerous scars.

Most of Davenport's jurors later said Tewes' testimony sealed his death verdict.

"She had a dramatic impact on us," said juror Edward Mahon of Placentia. "We only knew the dead girl by name. The Tewes girl was reality. When she showed us her scars and talked about that night. . . .

"If all of the jury instruction errors the Supreme Court talked about had been corrected, it wouldn't have changed my vote to have Davenport executed."

Attack Admitted

Davenport admits the attack on Tewes.

"I was on drugs; I feel bad about what I did to her," he said. He was a 19-year-old Marine at the time, stationed at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

Davenport served 4 years of a 6-year prison term for the Tewes attack. Prosecutors wrote letters opposing his release, noting in their argument that Davenport once said he liked to "twist and gouge" when he stabbed someone. He was released, despite those objections, 8 months before the Lingle murder.

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