1. Archive

Letter key to appeal of murder conviction

Laketta Davis looks like a thousand other untroubled students as she strolls the campus of St. Petersburg Junior College.

But the 20-year-old has endured tragedy like few others.

In November 1994, a jilted boyfriend made good on a threat to kill Davis' mother and sister. He then waited for Davis to return home so he could shoot her, too.

Davis, however, spent the night with a new boyfriend and, in not returning home until the next morning, saved her life. She found her mother's body.

"I want to forget that entire part of my life," she said recently, declining a substantive interview. "I don't want to relive all that. It's done."

But today, more than a criminal's deeds in November 1994 haunt Davis.

The man convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths claims from a prison cell, as he did at his 1995 trial, that Davis killed her own family and blamed him. Prosecutors say that's absurd.

Demetrius Cason's claims of innocence may have died at trial. But then Davis did something that provided a killer a wisp of hope as he appeals his murder convictions.

Davis wrote him a letter.

+ + +

Davis acknowledges that she mailed Cason a letter in early 1996.

"I hoped he's going to tell me what happened to my family so I can get on with my life and not have this void in my heart," Davis explained in a Feb. 19 deposition when questioned by Cason's attorney.

Davis said the letter contained nothing but a few mundane details of her current life. Charles Lykes, Cason's attorney, said the letter was far from mundane.

The letter, he said, contained Davis' confession. "Please forgive me of the killings," reads a copy of the letter, provided by Cason to Lykes. "And I'm sorry for using you like I did that night."

A poem that Lykes said also was written by Davis contains similar admissions of guilt, the attorney said.

Davis, however, said Cason took the real letter she wrote to him and created a forgery.

"I did write him a letter," Davis said in her deposition. "But it was not this letter. . . . The majority of things in this letter I did not write."

Davis said Cason took some details she did write to make the forged letter more convincing, including details about Davis attaining her high-school equivalency diploma.

"He just took the actual letter . . . and he took things out of it and he redid things," she said.

Handwriting experts retained by both prosecutors and Lykes say they do not have enough samples of Davis' known writing to make an absolute determination. Both say that there are elements in the letter and poem consistent with her handwriting, just as they say there are elements that are inconsistent.

The prosecutors' expert is leaning toward declaring the letter a fake.

"There were features of the writing that were extremely inconsistent with her writing," handwriting expert Bruce Dekraker said.

But he needs more known writing samples to be sure.

Lykes asked Davis earlier this year how she can be sure Cason forged the letter.

"Because I know I did not kill my mother and my sister, so why would I write him and apologize to him?"

+ + +

The evidence of Cason's guilt, prosecutors say, is overwhelming.

Prosecutors said at his trial that Cason, also known as "Cadillac Fats," was in a rage because his first and only girlfriend had shunned him for another man.

After looking for Davis Thanksgiving night in 1994, Cason reached her by phone and told her to call him back in five minutes at his grandmother's house "or I'll kill you, your mama and your family," Davis told investigators.

She never called him back.

At 1:03 a.m., she checked into a St. Petersburg motel with her new boyfriend.

At almost the same time, prosecutors say, Cason broke into the Ninth Avenue S home that Davis shared with her mother, Shirley Davis, a certified nursing assistant, and her 8-year-old sister, Tomise Anderson.

With a .25-caliber pistol, Cason shot and killed the mother and killed Tomise with a bullet to the back of her head as she lay in her bed, prosecutors say.

Cason scrawled on a wall a statement he would later admit to investigators he had written.

"I did it for Fish," he wrote. "I did the kid too because she seen me do it."

Fish was the nickname of Laketta's mother's fiance, who investigators said had no involvement in the crime.

Cason later fled to a cousin's house, where he held police at bay for six hours as he hid in an attic.

After he surrendered, police found the murder weapon not far from where Cason had hid. They also recovered Mrs. Davis' house keys and learned that he had tried to sell jewelry taken from the woman's body.

A relative of Cason's told police that Cason told him, "I just killed two people."

As for Laketta, the receipt showing the time she checked into the motel provided a strong alibi.

Lykes said Davis cleverly fabricated an alibi and orchestrated the discovery of her mother's body.

At trial, Assistant State Attorney Mike Andrews said that Cason's claim that Laketta killed her own family was "the final insult."

"He has taken her mother. He has taken her sister. And now he would have you believe that she did it!"

Cason claims that Laketta killed her family and then asked him to write the statement on the wall. He also claims she gave him the gun.

After his conviction, a jury fell one vote short of sending Cason to the electric chair. He is serving two life sentences.

+ + +

Lykes said some witnesses saw Laketta at or near her home at a time she was supposedly at the motel. But prosecutors said those witnesses are unreliable.

If he can persuade a circuit judge in the coming months that the letter and poem with the alleged confessions are real, his client could win a new trial.

Lykes said Laketta had problems with her mother and sister, problems prosecutors say aren't unusual for any family.

"It isn't nice to accuse anyone of murder, Laketta or Demetrius," Lykes said in an interview. "If his story weren't true, I don't think he'd say it. He struck me as someone who is honest."

Executive Assistant State Attorney Beverly Andringa declined to comment, except to say, "The state and 12 jurors obviously disagree with Mr. Lykes."

+ + +

Laketta Davis said she is proud of the life she has made for herself since the murders. Once a poor student, she is now a psychology major at St. Petersburg Junior College who looks forward to the future.

Yet, she is haunted by dreams that Cason will get out of prison. Before trial, he wrote her a letter from jail that said, "You is gonna see me come with wings like bat-man because I can fly."

Now Davis fears she innocently may have provided him with an opportunity.

Said Davis: "He's going to kill me if he gets out."