Jurors return guilty verdict after an hour of deliberation
By Jordan Fouts
GOSHEN — It took a jury less than an hour to convict an Elkhart man of strangling a woman to death in her home in March 2018.
Benford Davis, 51, was found guilty Thursday of killing Sherry Houston, 57. She was found in the living room of her Prairie Street home on March 26, 2018, and Davis was arrested on a warrant charging him in her death one year later.
The verdict was read in court an hour after jurors were sent to deliberate. Sentencing was set for Sept. 26.
He faces up to 65 years in prison.
‘Hold him accountable’
The jury reached its decision after hearing two days of testimony from investigators and forensic scientists. They also heard from friends and relatives of Houston’s, who described the tumultuous relationship she was in and the change they saw come over her after she got involved with Davis.
“Sherry Houston was full of life. She was kind, she was generous, she was a mother hen,” Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker said in her closing arguments, a photo of a smiling Houston on the screen behind her. “Her weakness was loving a man who was fatal to her, and letting him into her safe, locked home.”
She pointed to five areas of evidence that she wanted jurors to base their decision on. Those included the depiction of their relationship and how Davis treated Houston, and the amount of phone contact between the two – there were as many as 500 exchanges a month, though his attempts to contact her abruptly stopped after March 25, 2018.
Becker also highlighted Davis’s own statements, many of which she said were made to cover his tracks, as well as the fact that he left town and went to Indianapolis without any apparent attempt to tell Houston about it. She also pointed to the presence of his DNA on Houston’s body and clothing, including under her fingernails.
“You probably have a pretty good visual of the defendant choking the life out of Sherry, her hands doing whatever they could, trying to stop her attacker,” Becker said. “Sherry’s weakness allowed his strength to kill her. Please hold him accountable.”
‘That should create doubt’
In his closing remarks, Jeffrey Majerek, one of Davis’ attorneys, questioned the depiction of Houston as a victim of domestic abuse.
“After all that, she called him 196 times. They’ll say this was some kind of domestic violence syndrome, but … she put up locks on her door but invited him over,” he said. “The guy chokes you and you call him, he steals your gun apparently and you call him, and you keep calling him. That should create doubt in your mind.”
He also challenged some of the testimony from Houston’s friends, asking why they hadn’t mentioned a past incident of Davis choking her sooner, or a restraining order she may have taken out against him. He questioned whether they were credible witnesses.
Majerek also asked whether Houston’s change in personality couldn’t be attributed to another life event, such as seeing her sister go to jail. He said a lot of things the jury heard, like Davis’ calls to Houston suddenly stopping or his DNA being found on her body, could have more than one reasonable explanation, and characterized a lot of the evidence as circumstantial.
Davis also did a bad job of trying to flee, if that was his intent, Majerek said, since he used his own name to buy the bus ticket. Majerek suggested the reason he left town was because he simply gave up on the relationship.
“You might be sitting there thinking he wasn’t the best boyfriend, you might be thinking he was an ass, but that doesn’t mean he murdered her,” he said.
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