Davis convicted in strangulation death

Benford Davis

GOSHEN — A man accused of killing a woman in March 2018 has asked that the jury not hear evidence he acted violently toward her when he goes to trial Monday.

Benford Davis, 51, is charged with killing 57-year-old Sherry Houston in her Prairie Street home on March 26, 2018.

He was arrested in February in Indianapolis on a warrant issued after authorities said his DNA matched samples taken from her clothing.

Police were lead to Davis as a suspect after neighbors said he was in a “volatile relationship” with Houston.

His attorneys, Jeffrey Majerek and Chris Crawford, filed a motion to keep certain evidence from being introduced at trial. Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno said at a hearing to discuss the motion Thursday that  it would be hard to rule on the admissibility of some of that evidence until it actually comes up.

“Until I see how each side is trying to use the evidence, it’s hard to guess how it’s going to go,” he remarked.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker said they have a significant amount of evidence from neighbors who say they observed Davis’s behavior toward Houston. She cited incidents including a broken window, damage being done to Houston’s car and a weapon being stolen.

Davis also expressed an intent to kill Houston, according to Becker. She said the evidence would show his motive for the murder as well as his possessiveness and jealousy.

“There are so many things going on, and the state plans to discuss some of it,” she said. 

She said prosecutors don’t plan to delve into the specifics of that evidence in opening remarks, but only to refer to them in generalities. Crawford said his concern is the cumulative effects such references could have.

Christofeno remarked that if prosecutors make statements about that evidence but aren’t actually able to introduce it, it would be a gift to the defense attorneys.

“Ms. Becker knows if she makes a blunder in opening statements, you’ll hold her accountable,” he told them.

Crawford also mentioned letters that Houston wrote to her sister about Davis, which he said often contained generalities or didn’t always mention him by name. One of the issues debated Thursday was what they might say about Davis’s mindset, especially considering the time that passed between when they were written and when Houston was killed.

Crawford said Christofeno will have to look at the letters and decide if they’re prejudicial or inadmissible under evidence rules about hearsay.

Christofeno said he’ll take up the issue of evidence Monday before the trial gets under way.

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