GOSHEN — Benford Davis acted out of jealousy and anger when he strangled Sherry Houston in her Elkhart home, prosecutors argued at the outset of his trial Tuesday.

Davis, 51, is charged with murder in the March 2018 death of 57-year-old Houston. He was arrested Feb. 4 in Indianapolis on a warrant issued after authorities said his DNA matched samples taken from Houston’s body and clothing.

“Benford Davis strangled Sherry Houston to death, and then left her lifeless body on the floor of the living room in her own home,” Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Don Pitzer told the jury in his opening statement.

Houston was killed following a cookout at a neighbor’s house the weekend of March 24, 2018. Davis grew increasingly upset as he called her repeatedly that day and she didn’t answer, according to Pitzer.

“He’s losing his mind. He’s calling her over and over and he can’t get ahold of her,” he said.

Police found her body a few days later, when neighbors reported that she didn’t come to the door though the TV was still blaring inside. Pitzer said there were some signs of a struggle, such as Houston’s hat being knocked off and one of her earrings coming out. 

‘Keep an open mind’

Pitzer laid out for the jury how authorities believe Davis and Houston were in a relationship for about a year, during which Davis became more controlling and manipulative. Relatives, friends and neighbors saw a change in Houston in that time, Pitzer said, from a woman who was friendly and outgoing to someone who was depressed and possibly suicidal by the fall of 2017.

“She was in over her head,” he said. “Sherry became despondent, she said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I need to leave it to God.”

He told the jury they would hear testimony from some of those people in the coming days. He said they would testify about helping Houston install locks on her doors, about how she became more reserved and about the conflict between her and Davis.

Jurors would also hear evidence of crimes Davis committed in the months leading up to the murder, such as breaking into her bedroom through the window, as well as phone records showing that he called Houston dozens of times a day and as many as 300 times in total, Pitzer said. Davis suddenly stopped making those calls after Houston was killed.

“You can draw your own inference from that,” he said.

In his own brief opening statement, Davis’s co-counsel, Jeffrey Majarek, told the jury they should look at the evidence through the lens of presumed innocence. He said they should view as circumstantial the DNA evidence linking Davis to the scene as well as the fact that he left for Indianapolis soon after she was killed.

“This case is about how you look at the evidence and how you evaluate the evidence,” he said. “Keep an open mind.”

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