Suspect in Teen's Slaying Faces Death Penalty

Prosecutors say suspect killed 16-year-old girl with pending sexual assault charges against him to silence her

By Greg Janda
|  Monday, Nov 4, 2013  |  Updated 8:23 PM CDT
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The trial is underway for  Franklin Davis, 30, accused of brutally killing a 16-year-old Shania Gray to stop her from testifying against him in a sexual assault case.

Ray Villeda, NBC 5 News

The trial is underway for Franklin Davis, 30, accused of brutally killing a 16-year-old Shania Gray to stop her from testifying against him in a sexual assault case.

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The trial is underway for a man accused of brutally killing a 16-year-old Carrollton girl to stop her from testifying against him in a sexual assault case.

Franklin Davis pleaded not guilty at the start of his capital murder trial on Monday.

Carrollton investigators say Gray was killed to prevent her from testifying in a sexual assault case she had pending against him. Mesquite police said Davis had sex with Gray four times in 2010 while the then-14-year-old was babysitting his children.

Gray's mother was the first witness called to the stand. Sherry Gray-James told the jury that her daughter did not meet her outside of Hebron High School as planned.

"I talked to her when I got to school to pick her up, and she said she'd be down in a little bit, but she never came down," she said.

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Gray-James said she knew the whole time that something was wrong. It was uncharacteristic of daughter to just disappear, she said.

"We did not sleep," she said. "We were up all night. I just kept telling my husband, 'This is not good. Shania would never leave on her own.'"

According to an affidavit, Franklin Davis confessed to killing Gray in September 2012 after gaining her trust by posing as someone else online. He told police he lured the teenager to his car and took her to a park by the Trinity River at gunpoint. He then told investigators he shot Gray twice and stepped on her throat, killing her, police said.

Davis was arrested and charged with four counts of sexual assault in July 2011. He posted bond the next month and was released.

Prosecutors are seeking a capital murder conviction and the death penalty. Prosecutors say Gray's death was a planned murder to permanently silence Gray.

"This case is about drowning innocence in deceit, deception and debauchery," the state said in its opening argument.

The defense is not disputing Davis killed Gray but disputes the reasoning. Davis' defense attorneys are disputing the rapes and want a lesser charge of murder.

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In opening arguments, Davis' defense team questioned why Gray kept returning to the home after the alleged sexual assaults. The defense team told the jury it won't argue Davis murdered the teen, but hopes to save his life and insists he doesn't deserve the death penalty.

Family and friends held back tears in court as they saw a picture of Gray's body and her backpack floating in the Trinity River.

During testimony, Gray-James said she saw a text message Davis sent her daughter that said, "Just want you, but can't fully have you just yet." Gray's mother also testified that she and the teen had communicated about the alleged sexual abuse in detail before her death.

Online False Friendship Turns Deadly

Police said Davis admitted to luring Gray from Hebron High School using a fake social media profile and a prepaid phone. Posing as someone else, he convinced Gray to meet him at the school, he said. Davis told police that when he arrived at the school, Gray was surprised to see him.

According to Davis' confession in the affidavit, he picked up Gray and drove her to the trailhead at Champion Trail near Valley View Lane and Interstate 635.

Davis told police Gray spotted a .380 pistol in his possession along the way and asked if he was going to hurt her. He said he told the girl he only wanted to talk about the case. Once at the trailhead, Davis led Gray down the trail to the Trinity River, where he shot her twice with the pistol, he told police. Davis told police that the teenager asked him, 'Why?' as she partially fell into the Trinity River, clinging to life, before he strangled her with his foot.

A cyclist found her body along the Trinity River two days later.

Davis, who had been arrested on unrelated traffic warrants and was being held in the Carrollton Municipal Jail during the investigation of the missing teen's slaying, was eventually charged with capital murder.

Following his arrest, Davis was transported to Parkland Hospital for medical treatment in December 2012. While at the hospital, Davis was able to escape police custody with a deputy's weapon. After a brief standoff, he was taken into custody later that same day. Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said a failure to follow procedures, not an issue of manpower, led to Davis' escape.

Davis faces the charge of capital murder. If convicted, he could receive a death sentence if convicted.

NBC 5 reporters Kendra Lyn, Ray Villeda and others contributed to this report.

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