NEW ORLEANS – For a second time, a jury chose the death penalty for Len Davis (search), a former New Orleans police officer convicted of ordering the murder of a woman who filed a brutality complaint against him.
The verdict was handed up Tuesday by a federal court jury that rejected a defense call for a life sentence.
Davis had been convicted in 1996 on a charge that he violated the civil rights of New Orleans resident Kim Groves (search) "under color of law" when he ordered her death in 1994. But, although the conviction held up on appeal, the death setence was thrown out because one possible factor in the jury's decision to call for execution — a charge of witness tampering — was thrown out.
A new sentencing phase with a new jury was ordered. That jury was selected July 25 and it heard nearly two weeks of testimony and arguments, including presentations from Davis himself, acting as co-counsel on his own defense team.
Among Davis's arguments was his claim that he was merely trying to trap Groves in a drug deal when she was killed coincidentally. He also claimed that he was suffering from stress because of his dangerous job as a police officer.
But the jury in the complicated hearing rejected both arguments in its first votes on crucial issues last week. They found that Davis had specific intent to kill Groves and that he was involved in substantial planning and premeditation, said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
Davis refused to attend the proceedings after those key votes, which were followed by more evidence and more arguments on whether a death sentence was warranted.
"Death should be for the worst of the worst. It should be for the incorrigible. For someone who's never done any good in his life. It doesn't fit here,'" defense attorney Julian Murray argued to the jury prior to its final deliberations.
But the jury opted for death. A federal judge will formally impose the sentence later. A sentencing date had not been set Tuesday. Letten noted that appeals are automatic in death penalty cases so it remained unclear when, if ever, Davis will be executed.
The Groves case grew out of a federal investigation of Davis' other illegal activities.
At the time of Groves' killing in October 1994, Davis was the target of an FBI sting operation that included a tap on his cell telephone. Federal agents had set up a fake cocaine warehouse and Davis was looking for other corrupt officers to guard the building.
Eleven New Orleans police officers were eventually convicted in the drug sting, including Davis, who got an additional sentence of life in prison.
Davis' call to convicted hitman Paul Hardy ordering Groves' killing was recorded. So was his reaction to news from the police department that she had been shot: "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Rock, rock-a-bye!"
Hardy, who was convicted and sentenced to death, is scheduled to have a resentencing hearing in October.