PASADENA — A teenager who used ear plugs before fatally shooting his mother--something he told investigators he should have done years earlier--was convicted of second-degree murder Wednesday.
Jurors took the middle ground in the verdict against Joseph Davidson.
Prosecutors had sought first-degree murder because Davidson deliberately killed his adoptive mother, while the defense asked for manslaughter, arguing Davidson was abused by her and mentally deficient.
Public Defender Mark De Witt said he was "bitterly disappointed" at the jury's decision.
"This kid was salvageable," added De Witt, who said he has grown close to Davidson since De Witt began representing the teen in juvenile proceedings.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Renee Cartaya did not appear surprised at the verdict. She said she had offered to settle the case before trial if Davidson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder because she had worried a jury simply could not get over the emotional impact of a 14-year-old on trial for premeditated murder.
"Technically, it's a first [degree murder]," Cartaya said. She said the jury, instead, convicted on the lesser charge "because of his age. I think that's very difficult and emotional for a jury."
Jury foreman Tom Ballard, an FBI agent based in Santa Monica, said while no one forgot Davidson was a teenager, that did not stop the panel from following the law.
He said when jurors began deliberations, the panel was split.
Some, including Ballard, thought there was clear evidence of premeditation.
Ballard cited the defendant's statements that after an argument with his 52-year-old mother, Tinann Turner Davidson, on Aug. 16, 1996, he considered killing himself, then decided to kill her instead. He went upstairs, retrieved his father's .38-caliber Smith and Wesson from its hiding place, hid it behind his back as he approached his mother and distracted her so he could get close.
De Witt called three mental-health experts to testify that Davidson had a predisposition toward mental illness because his birth mother was a schizophrenic. He was born drug-addicted and was adopted at a young age by the victim, whom De Witt said had constantly berated him and told him he would never amount to anything.
After deliberating all day Tuesday and a few hours Wednesday morning, Ballard said the jurors reached consensus that the killing was a murder.
"I thought there was sufficient evidence to prove premeditation," Ballard said. 'At the same time, I respected others who felt that his capacity to deliberate was impeded by the experiences he had."
Davidson walked out of the family's Glendale apartment after the killing, then called 911 to confess from a phone booth outside Glendale High School. Police said he was smiling when they arrived.
Authorities said Davidson confessed to the killing and said he wished he had done it sooner "because they can't send you away as long," according to court records.
The 6-foot-tall teen stood when Davidson was told to rise for the reading of the verdict. He put his hands in his pockets as the clerk announced the conviction.
Davidson is scheduled to be sentenced in February. He faces a minimum of 18 years to life in prison.
"It's sad that at his age he has to pay the price he has to pay," said one 53-year-old juror, who declined to give her name. "But it's a threat that he be let out. Obviously, something brought him to this point. He's ill. If they let him out, would it be his father next?"