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California and the West

3 to Be Charged With Murder in Abuse Case

Family: San Bernardino County prosecutors accuse them of imprisoning two boys and killing a third. Defense attorney scoffs at the latest allegation as unfounded.

November 02, 2000|SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JOSHUA TREE, Calif. — Authorities on Wednesday began laying out their case against three adults accused of imprisoning two boys. They painted a harrowing picture of an isolated desert life, and then said they plan to charge the adults with murdering a third boy.

San Bernardino County Assistant Dist. Atty. Dan Cortez, after a lengthy hearing in a High Desert courtroom, said he plans to file the murder charges today. The dead boy's parents, John "Rajohn Lord" Davis and Carrie Lee Davis, and another woman who lived with the family, Faye Potts, were bound over for trial by a judge after the hearing on a range of other charges, including abuse and false imprisonment.

Cortez said he made the decision to seek murder charges based on the day's testimony, which included allegations that the adults destroyed all photos of the dead boy, named Rainbow Lord, after he died.

But defense attorneys appointed to represent the three adults scoffed at the latest possible charge.

They said that Superior Court Judge Bert L. Swift had ruled that there was not enough evidence to substantiate a charge of torture in connection with Rainbow's death--much less a murder charge.

"In the world of criminal law, 'maybe' doesn't count," said Richard V. Crouter, the Yucca Valley attorney appointed to represent John Davis, the father of the three boys.

Detectives charged that 10 years ago, when Rainbow, a sickly 6-year-old, began crying, Potts began kicking him. According to the elder son, detectives testified, John Davis then beat Rainbow with a board, and the boy died a short time later.

The family burned the boy's body in a trash can and in their fireplace, investigators said. They contended that the boy's parents have lied, at various times, about how the boy died and how his body was disposed of. There reportedly was a rule in the house that no one was allowed to say his name.

"There is too much evidence that they were trying to hide something," Cortez said.

The case has elicited a powerful response from the remote desert communities near the family's home in an area known as Wonder Valley, east of Twentynine Palms. San Bernardino County Sheriff's Sgt. Fred Gonzalez said Wednesday that dozens of residents have called authorities offering to sit on the trial's jury. Gonzalez said he has never seen such a reaction in a criminal case.

It doesn't work that way, of course--juries are chosen by prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges--but Gonzalez said it indicates that the community is "quite eager" to see a conviction.

Deputies arrested the adults earlier this month after the Davises' older son, 17-year-old Yahweh, called 911 to say that he and his brother, 12-year-old Angel, were being chained and held prisoner in their family compound.

Investigators say the boys were hidden from the outside world by their fanatically religious family. They had never been to school or a doctor, bore the marks of chains and whips, and were underdeveloped--Yahweh weighs less than 75 pounds.

At Wednesday's hearing, attorneys for the three adults revealed early signs of a defense strategy based on the argument that they are being punished as much for their beliefs as their actions.

For example, deputies testified that the boys' hands were marked with identical brands made by heating a cross with a cigarette lighter. But the deputies conceded that the boys had asked for the brands to prove that they were "soldiers of God."

The attorneys pointed out that it is not illegal simply to be unorthodox or fanatical about religion.

"A lot of this has to do with their beliefs," said Potts' attorney, Brian Skibby. "If somebody isn't the norm, they are going to punish them for that."

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