Arrest made in brutal slaying of 80-year-old Brooksville woman

BROOKSVILLE — Sarah Davis thought she could help the man, a 39-year-old career criminal known on the streets of south Brooksville as "One-Eyed Jack."

She did this sort of thing all the time, friends said. The 80-year-old widow would loan money to people, buy groceries for strangers and give shoes to neighborhood children. Offering a job to this aimless man was in her nature.

But authorities said Byron Keith Burch didn't care about Davis' good intentions. He wanted her jewelry so he could sell it and buy drugs. And he was willing to kill her to get it, Sheriff Richard Nugent said Tuesday as he announced Burch's arrest on a charge of first-degree murder.

Nugent gave a grim narrative of the events leading to the arrest.

On May 15, family members worried about her welfare called the Sheriff's Office. When deputies arrived at her St. Francis Street house to check on her, they found a horrible crime scene instead.

A trail of blood told of a struggle that went from room to room in the small, immaculately kept home, leading to her lifeless body in a bathroom. Numerous slashes on her hands, face and a nearly severed throat indicated that she had fought her killer to the end.

"This is not supposed to happen when you're 80 years old," said Nugent.

At the Tampa home of Davis' son, Mack Davis III, family members on Tuesday struggled between grief for a loved one and relief that someone had finally been arrested for the crime.

"This has been very hard for my husband," said Janette Spencer-Davis, Mack Davis' wife. "He says it's just like his mommy just vanished."

"She loved her community, and she gave back," Nugent said. "And the neighborhood came out in helping us apprehend this perpetrator."

As deputies searched for Burch later that day around Fort Dade Avenue and Ponce de Leon Boulevard, several people flagged them down. They told the deputies that Burch had just broken into their home.

Deputies went to the house and found Burch hiding under a pile of clothes in a bedroom closet.

It had not taken him long to turn Davis' jewelry into crack cocaine.

"He was high as a kite when we grabbed him," Nugent said.

He was arrested at the time on two burglary charges. He is being held at the Hernando County Jail without bond.

Over the years, Burch — who is blind in his left eye — has shuffled between the county jail and prison.

In 2005, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for mugging a homeless man for $20. But he was released from prison Dec. 17, several years early, when an appellate court overturned his conviction because the victim's criminal history wasn't introduced during the trial.

Burch's rap sheet dates to his early years. At 16, he was sentenced to four years in prison for the rape of a girl in 1987.

Burch has also been charged with burglary, battery on a law enforcement officer, possession of cocaine, forgery and theft. In 2005, he pleaded no contest to beating up an inmate while waiting in line to use the microwave in the Hernando County Jail.

Davis, one of the matriarchs of south Brooksville, taught most of its residents over the course of a 30-year education career at Moton School, which was once the only school that African-Americans could attend in Hernando County.

After she retired from the classroom, Davis maintained a visible presence in the community. She volunteered at her church, Bethlehem Progressive Baptist; headed up the neighborhood's crime watch; and worked at one of the nearby sheriff's substations for 14 years.

Friends and neighbors say Davis had slowed down in the past year after the death of her husband, Mack Davis II, and the loss of her job last summer when the Sheriff's Office shuttered the substations during budget cuts.

But she still made it a point to help others in need. In the week and a half since her death, family members have learned about the breadth of her generosity.

"She wasn't one to shout about what she did for people," Spencer-Davis said. "And a lot people probably took advantage of that. If Mack had known, he probably would have cautioned her against some of that."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Arrest made in brutal slaying of 80-year-old Brooksville woman 05/25/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 11:37pm]

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