A Travis County judge declared a mistrial late Friday for a man charged in a deadly stabbing at a South Austin motel party that witnesses said resulted from a fight over stolen cell phones.
Jurors deliberated more than four hours before failing to render a verdict against Arthur Davis in the February 2013 death of Robert Spencer Manning. District Judge David Wahlberg declared a hung jury and scheduled a new trial for September.
Davis, 36, has been charged with murder and aggravated assault. He is facing a term of 25 years to life.
In closing arguments Friday, defense lawyer Jackie Wood argued the state had erred in relying on inebriated witnesses and shoddy interrogation procedures to identify her client as the killer. But prosecutors Leslie Booker and Andrea Austin countered that the bulk of the testimony and physical evidence supported their theory that Davis committed a senseless murder.
The case was a difficult one for jurors as it fell to them to weigh the credibility of the witnesses, the majority of whom had criminal histories and ties to either the defendant or the victim, and had admitted they had been drinking and doing drugs at the party.
State witnesses in the week-long trial said Davis stabbed Manning, 22, and Manning’s friend, Mark Ramirez, then 21, about 3 a.m. on Feb. 27, 2013. Ramirez told jurors they had been hanging out at the Country Garden Inn & Suites when a friend of his invited Davis and his friends.
Amber Romero, who arrived with Davis, said they went over so that Davis could sell Ramirez and Manning cocaine, but when Davis did not sell enough, her boyfriend took their cell phones. They left soon after but returned because they wanted to try to make more money, Romero said.
By then the men had noticed their phones were gone and tensions escalated between Ramirez and Romero’s boyfriend, according to state testimony. Manning jumped in to help, but Davis fought Manning back and eventually stabbed both men with a knife belonging to Manning that had been left on a bed, witnesses said.
Wood, in her closing arguments, made the case that Romero’s boyfriend stabbed the men, describing his long struggle with mental health issues and evidence that he instigated the whole argument. She also pointed to testimony from one defense witness who said he saw Romero’s boyfriend wield the knife.
But Austin said the defense’s key witness had told investigators that he did not see the stabbing. The most neutral person to testify, she said, was a then 17-year-old prostitute who had not known any of the people involved and was able to pick out Davis as the killer.
Davis, who was arrested nearly two days later, was the only person with hand injuries consistent with those of using a knife, the prosecutor said.