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Trial in killing, dismemberment of ‘ThunderCats’ writer begins in Pasco County

Stephen Perry’s body parts were found scattered around Tampa Bay. James Davis was arrested weeks later.
This May 21, 2010, photo shows 38046 8th Ave. in Zephyrhills. When "Thundercats" writer Stephen J. Perry fell on hard times and became homeless in late December 2009, a friend allowed Perry to stay in the home.  According to police reports presented to the court on Monday, shortly after he moved into the house Perry allowed James Davis and his wife, Roxanne, to move into the home’s garage apartment. But the new living arrangement lasted just over five months before investigators say Davis murdered Perry in his bedroom, leaving behind pools of blood that were found by police days later.
This May 21, 2010, photo shows 38046 8th Ave. in Zephyrhills. When "Thundercats" writer Stephen J. Perry fell on hard times and became homeless in late December 2009, a friend allowed Perry to stay in the home. According to police reports presented to the court on Monday, shortly after he moved into the house Perry allowed James Davis and his wife, Roxanne, to move into the home’s garage apartment. But the new living arrangement lasted just over five months before investigators say Davis murdered Perry in his bedroom, leaving behind pools of blood that were found by police days later. [ Times (2010) ]
Published May 16|Updated May 16

DADE CITY — It was fitting that Deputy Ricky Siebert of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was the first called to testify Monday morning in the long-awaited, first-degree murder trial of a Pasco County man accused of killing and dismembering his roommate, a writer for the popular ‘80s cartoon series “ThunderCats.”

Exactly 12 years earlier, Siebert was the first to respond to a call about a suspicious, smelly vehicle parked at the Quality Inn motel off Bearss Avenue in Tampa. The blue Dodge Caravan belonged to Stephen Perry, but the deputy soon learned the 56-year-old writer wasn’t a guest at the motel. And when staff members showed the deputy where the abandoned van was parked, he said he recognized the odor immediately.

It was “overwhelming,” Siebert told the jury. “The stench of human decomposition.”

That was just the first in a chain of grisly discoveries that led investigators to charge James Davis, now 56, with Perry’s murder in July 2010. Should he be found guilty, state prosecutors will proceed with plans to seek the death penalty. If the jury recommends a sentence of death in the penalty phase, Florida law now requires it to be a unanimous decision.

In the motel dumpster next to Perry’s van, Hillsborough investigators found what would later be identified as his right arm — severed and decomposing in a black garbage bag full of powdered lime. His headless, limbless torso was found in Wesley Chapel, still dressed in tattered blue jeans severed just below the groin, wrapped in tarps and black trash bags and hidden underneath a tree on a vacant lot, according to officials. A dumpster behind a strip mall in Zephyrhills contained more macabre clues: a circular saw with a bloody cloth wedged inside the blade guard, trash bags full of blood-soaked bedding and a bloodied pillow pierced with an apparent bullet hole through the center.

DNA evidence collected from hundreds of pieces of evidence consistently linked back to two men: Perry and his roommate, James Davis. Perry had just been diagnosed with bladder cancer and was in the midst of a heated custody battle over his then-5-year-old son, investigators told the court. The writer had fallen on hard times and, when he became homeless in late December 2009, a friend allowed Perry to stay in a small house he owned in Zephyrhills. According to police reports presented to the court on Monday, shortly after he moved into the house Perry allowed Davis and his wife, Roxanne, to move into the home’s garage apartment. But the new living arrangement lasted just over five months before investigators say Davis murdered Perry in his bedroom, leaving behind pools of blood that were found by police days later.

Davis was quick to enter a not guilty plea, but he has spent the past dozen years behind bars, held without bail while awaiting his day in court. More than 100 motions have been filed in his case, along with hundreds of pieces of evidence, and Pasco County Judge Gregory Groger has set aside two weeks to hear lengthy testimony from dozens of investigators and expert witnesses.

Few spectators filled the wooden pews in Groger’s courtroom Monday morning and Davis, clean-shaven and dressed in a tan suit, kept to himself throughout a marathon day of opening statements and testimony from law enforcement officials.

In his opening statement, Assistant State’s Attorney Manny Garcia spent more than half an hour running through the various pieces of evidence he said linked Davis to Perry’s death. Video surveillance from stores throughout Pasco County showed Davis purchasing items found at the crime scenes, Garcia said, and bank cameras showed Davis driving Perry’s van and using his debit card days after he was killed. Davis was a guest at the Quality Inn where Perry’s van and arm were found, and his DNA was collected from rubber gloves found inside the bags containing Perry’s bloody body parts.

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“What’s important to know is that there are statistics as to the frequency of that DNA profile, and it was 1 in 308 quadrillion,” Garcia said.

Yet Anne Borghetti, Davis’ Clearwater-based defense attorney, said the absence of Davis’ DNA on some evidence also raises questions. In some cases, Davis’ DNA has been outright excluded, Borghetti said. There are also questions as to what Davis’ possible motive could have been, Borghetti said.

Perry had recently been granted a domestic violence injunction against his estranged girlfriend, Krystal Carroll, Davis’ defense attorney said during opening arguments. And while records show Davis was a guest at the Quality Inn, they also show a second man — Charles Lumley, a friend of Davis’ — was there, too. Lumley also was once a suspect in Perry’s slaying before Davis was arrested, according to Davis’ defense attorney. Lumley has since died.

“There is simply not enough evidence here,” Borghetti said. “There is reasonable doubt. It’s all circumstantial.”

Testimony in Davis’ murder trial resumes tomorrow at 9 a.m. and is anticipated to continue until May 24. Should he be found guilty of first-degree murder, jurors have been asked to remain available through May 27 for a possible penalty phase of the trial.

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