RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Supreme Court reinstated a man's murder and robbery convictions in the death of his co-worker on Friday, reversing an appellate ruling that had declared the circumstantial evidence at trial was too weak for guilty verdicts.
A divided panel of the state Court of Appeals last August had vacated the 2019 convictions of David Myron Dover in the 2016 stabbing death of 79-year-old Arthur “Buddy” Davis in Kannapolis. Dover and Davis worked at the same automobile sales store. Their boss found Davis in his home, stabbed more than a dozen times. Dover was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In a 5-2 ruling, the state's highest court said the trial judge had been right to deny Dover's motion to dismiss the case after prosecutors presented their evidence.
According to court opinions, Dover had a substance abuse problem and had asked his girlfriend to look in a trash can near his house for about $3,000 in cash to help him post bail on a charge unrelated to Davis. Evidence from cellphone records also shows his phone was in the vicinity of Davis’ home, even as Dover told police initially he had been at home the night before Davis was found dead.
“Here substantial evidence supports the reasonable inference that defendant murdered the victim and took $3,000” from Davis, Chief Justice Paul Newby wrote in the majority opinion. The evidence also was sufficient to infer that Dover had gone to Davis' home that night, Newby wrote, and case law establishes that when an accused person makes conflicting statements about a crime, it may be considered a circumstance of someone “possessed of a guilty conscience” seeking to divert suspicion.
“Taken together, these facts show that defendant had the motive, opportunity and means to commit both the robbery with a dangerous weapon and the first-degree murder,” Newby added.
In a dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Robin Hudson wrote that prevailing justices “misapplied our standard of review when testing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction based on inference from circumstantial evidence.”
There's no evidence that can lead someone to infer reasonably that the $3,000 was actually money that Davis was supposed to give to his daughter, according to Hudson. She pointed out that the prosecution's own expert said that the cellphone data didn't prove that Dover was at Davis' home, and none of forensic evidence connected Dover to the crime.
The evidence “at most raises only a suspicion or conjecture that defendant was the perpetrator of the robbery and murder,” Hudson wrote in her opinion, joined by Associate Justice Anita Earls.
Dover, 59, has been serving his sentence at an Alexander County prison.