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Murder trial begins in killing at South Austin motel party

On the stand Tuesday, Ashli Poole said she was sure she saw Arthur Deon Davis kill one man and injure another in a brawl at a South Austin motel party that arose over stolen cell phones.

Prosecutors called her one of the most neutral witnesses in their case against Davis, who is on trial for murder and aggravated assault in the February 2013 death of Robert Spencer Manning. They said the 18-year-old woman had not known any of the people involved and had been picked up on the street that night to engage in prostitution.

But Travis County jurors could have a difficult time determining her credibility as they weigh their verdict this week. Often looking uncomfortable and shaking her head at the attorneys’ questions, she told the jury she only appeared in court because prosecutors arrested her to ensure she would testify. She had been on a crack cocaine binge in the days before the dispute, she said, and could not remember much of what happened. If convicted, Davis, 36, faces 25 years to life in prison.

In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors Andrea Austin and Leslie Booker said Davis stabbed Manning, 22, and Manning’s friend, Mark Ramirez, then 21, about 3 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2013. Manning and Ramirez had rented out a room and were throwing a party at the Country Garden Inn & Suites in the 2900 block of Interstate 35, near Woodward Street.

They had been hanging out, drinking and doing drugs when a friend of Ramirez’s invited Davis and his crew, Austin said. The party continued until Ramirez accused Davis’ friend of stealing their cell phones, the prosecutor said. Tensions escalated, a fight broke out and Manning jumped in to help, but Davis fought Manning back and eventually stabbed both men with a knife that Ramirez had left in the room, Austin said.

“This is not a case of a mistaken identity,” she said. Many of the witnesses had been granted immunity, Austin said, but they are credible and consistent in their statements.

Defense lawyers Jackie Wood and Tamara Needles withheld their opening statement. But they aggressively asked witnesses about what they recalled. One young woman at the party said her boyfriend had stolen the cell phones and could not remember who hit who first.

Under cross-examination, Poole told jurors she “lied a little bit” that night about what she remembered in hopes that authorities would let her go home. When Wood asked her if she recalled the investigator who questioned her had been a woman, Poole looked shocked.

“What? Damn,” the petite woman said, sitting a striped jail jumpsuit. “No, I don’t remember. I was so doped up.”

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