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Man Accused of Son's Murder Is Found Dead in Jail

Custody: Deputies say John Davis, also charged with abusing two other sons by chaining them up, hanged himself.

March 11, 2001|SCOTT GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Lamont "Rajohn Lord" Davis, the patriarch of a fanatical desert family accused of murdering one child and chaining up two others to shelter them from the outside world, hanged himself with a bedsheet Friday in a jail cell, sheriff's officials said Saturday.

San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies, who operate the county's jail system, found Davis at 10:15 p.m. Friday night, sheriff's spokeswoman Robin Haynal said. Deputies attempted to revive him through cardiopulmonary resuscitation but could not.

Homicide investigators have been called in, and an autopsy will be conducted next week, Haynal said, but by all indications, Davis, 53, committed suicide. A suicide note was found in his cell, but investigators declined to release its contents Saturday.

Since his arrest in October, Davis had been detained at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $2-million bail. On Friday, however, he had a brief court appearance in which his bail was increased to $2.3 million, and he was taken temporarily to a cell in a smaller holding facility at a Morongo Basin sheriff's substation.

Davis was alone in a cell, Haynal said. Deputies use scheduled inspections to monitor the behavior and welfare of inmates, and it appears that Davis timed his suicide around those inspections. Haynal did not know when deputies last saw Davis alive.

Davis, described by detectives and acquaintances as a domineering misogynist who presided over a camouflaged desert compound with an iron fist, apparently believed he was something of a surrogate for God. In a jailhouse interview with The Times shortly after his arrest, he said that he did not abuse his three children and that, after finding salvation while fighting in the Vietnam War, he believed he could not sin.

"Look right in my eyes," he said. "Do I look like a monster? Do I look like an evil person?"

In the interview, he said he believed that God placed him, his wife and another woman in jail to "shine a light" on the evils of law enforcement, lawyers and the media.

"God will set us free," he said. "It's God that put us in here, and it's God that's going to get us out."

Davis, his wife, Carrie Lee Davis, 41, and another woman who lived with the couple and was also believed to be a romantic partner of John Davis, were scheduled to go to trial next month. The charges are murder, torture, child abuse and false imprisonment, and prosecutors said last week that they planned to seek the maximum punishment for John Davis had he been convicted by a jury: three consecutive life prison terms.

The death comes a week after a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge, on the advice of two doctors, ruled that Davis was competent to stand trial.

Richard Crouter, the Yucca Valley attorney appointed to represent Davis, could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Deputies arrested the Davises and Faye Potts in October after the Davises' older son, 17-year-old Yahweh, called 911 to report that he and his brother, 12-year-old Angel, were being held prisoner at the family home in a desert community known as Wonder Valley.

Investigators say the boys had never been to school or a doctor and were hidden from the outside world. They bore the marks of chains and whips when they were discovered.

Authorities have said the boys were filthy and had chunks of hair missing from their scalps when they were found. They had been chained in their bedroom while eating, sleeping and studying the Bible, and had been beaten with two plastic sticks that were taped together and known as the "rod of correction," investigators said.

Doctors say the boys have been left with a condition known as "psychological dwarfism," meaning that they have been severely stunted by malnutrition and stress. When they were discovered, Yahweh weighed less than 75 pounds.

Prosecutors later added murder charges after evidence emerged that a third Davis child had died.

Detectives said that boy, named Rainbow Lord, began crying about 10 years ago as a 6-year-old. Potts, investigators charge, began kicking him and John Davis then beat Rainbow with a board. He died a short time later and was burned by the family in a trash can, authorities said.

The Davises have insisted that he was sickly from the start and said his death may have been caused by his eating a portion of drywall.

Though investigators have never found a body, they filed the murder charges last fall after uncovering evidence that the boys' parents hid his existence. Detectives said they believe that the Davises burned all photos of Rainbow, for example, and there was reportedly a rule in the household that his name could not be mentioned.

John Davis lived in Inglewood in the 1980s, then in Florida for several years before moving to Wonder Valley, near Twentynine Palms, about 10 years ago.

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