August 28, 2014

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Federal court OKs convicted killer’s request to challenge

A federal appeals court has given convicted killer Benson Davis approval to challenge his conviction based on the recantation of a key witness.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals previously had ruled that one of Davis’ co-defendants, Alfred Cleveland, could seek to have his conviction overturned, although U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary has yet to issue a ruling in that case.

Both Cleveland and Davis, who also is known as Ian Davis, point to the recantation of William Avery Jr., who testified against them in trials over the killing of Marsha Blakely, whose body was found behind the Westgate Shopping Center in Lorain about 9:15 a.m. Aug. 8, 1991.

Blakely, a crack addict, had been stabbed, run over by a car and her throat had been cut.

Police have long suspected that Blakely’s death is connected to the slaying of Floyd Epps, whose body was found a few hours before Blakely was discovered. No one has ever been charged in connection with Epps’ death.

Avery has sought to change his story multiple times, including during some of the trials and has signed affidavits indicating he lied during various trials in the case.

In addition to Cleveland and Davis, Lenworth Edwards and John Edwards were convicted of involvement in Blakely’s murder.

Cleveland has long maintained that he was in New York City at the time Blakely was killed and his defense attorneys have said Avery lied at the behest of his father and to get reward money being offered for information on the killing.

They have suggested that prosecutors threatened Avery to gain his cooperation, an allegation that prosecutors deny.

Police and prosecutors have countered that Avery had information about the crime that he couldn’t have learned from publicly-released information.

The appeals court ruling, released this week, stated that Davis had raised enough concerns about Avery’s testimony to justify having a federal judge examine the issue.

“If it were proven that Avery fabricated his testimony, that he was pressured by the prosecution to testify falsely at trial, and that the prosecution withheld evidence casting further doubt on Avery’s credibility, Davis could establish that a constitutional violation occurred and that, absent this violation, no reasonable factfinder would have found him guilty,” the decision said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.