State’s attorney will likely bring Davis back to court on arson charges

State's attorney will likely bring Davis back to court on arson charges by David Lias The three-day arson trial of a Wakonda man ended with a hung jury Nov. 17.

Clay County State�s Attorney Tami Bern, who prosecuted the case, isn�t going to let the trial�s outcome stop her from pursuing another attempt to convict George A. �Al� Davis of arson.

�Right now, I�m leaning toward retrying it,� Bern said Wednesday morning. �I haven�t had a chance to talk to the jurors yet. But I�m happy with how the evidence came in, and I�m happy with how the trial went.�

Davis was arrested in late June 1998 after he was indicted by a Clay County grand jury in May 1998 for, ironically, allegedly trying to burn down the rectory of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Wakonda.

The indictment alleges that on or about April 25, 1998 Davis committed second degree arson by intentionally trying to set fire to the rectory. The indictment also includes an alternative charge of third degree arson.

Davis also was indicted on first degree burglary charges, and in the alternative, third degree burglary for allegedly entering the rectory with the intent to commit a crime, in this case, arson.

�The jury got the case at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday (Nov. 17),� Bern said. �Five hours later, a mistrial was declared because the jury was hung.�

She indicated that the outcome of the trial wasn�t enough to dissuade her from another attempt at convicting Davis.

�I feel strong enough about the case,� Bern said. �I feel it�s worth giving it another shot.�

Second degree arson is a Class 2 felony that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The alternative count of third degree arson is a Class 4 felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

First degree burglary and the alternative count of third degree burglary are also Class 2 and Class 4 felonies. The maximum sentences for these counts are the same as for the two arson charges listed above.

The rectory was unoccupied at the time that Davis allegedly tried to set the structure on fire.

The last occupants of the rectory were trusties of the South Dakota Department of Corrections who worked in Wakonda early in 1998 wiring the community�s public school to connect its computer system to the Internet.

Following the indictment, Circuit Court Judge Arthur Rusch issued a warrant for Davis� arrest on June 5, 1998.

Search warrant documents reveal several ironic aspects of this case. An affidavit requesting a search warrant, filed April 29, 1998 by Clay County Deputy Sheriff Les Kephart, states that the sheriff's office received a report of a fire occurring at the rectory on April 25, 1998 and the sheriff's office began an investigation.

According to the affidavit, the fire was reported by Davis. He stated that he observed a fire inside of the rectory while walking his dog.

The affidavit states that a heavy rainstorm was occurring at the time Davis reported the fire. Firemen responded to the call, but the fire inside the house had extinguished voluntarily.

The fire appeared to have been set by someone breaking a window of the rectory and throwing a paper napkin/paper towel covered with accelerant into the residence.

Davis had a cut along his right hand which would be consistent with the breaking of the window, according to the affidavit. Firemen also witnessed blood on his jacket and jeans.

This injury would not have incurred while responding to the fire, the affidavit states, because Davis put on his fire gear prior to responding. The blood was on his clothes that were underneath his fire gear.

Bern said Wednesday that she isn�t sure when the process of scheduling another trial for Davis will begin.

�We may have to call a new panel (of jurors) and that isn�t scheduled until March,� she said. �I haven�t discussed it with Judge Rusch.�

Craig Thompson, Davis� attorney, was out of town Wednesday and couldn�t be reached for comment.

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