Defendant testifies in Fishzilla murder trial

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 21, 2021

SALISBURY —  After watching other witnesses give accounts of the incident, Dedrick Michelle Mason took the stand on Monday to give her version of the fatal shooting at Fishzilla Arcade in 2018.

Mason, 45, is currently facing charges of second-degree murder for killing James Christopher Davis, known to friends and family as “Milkbone.” Davis died in the early morning hours of April 21, 2018, shortly after being shot twice by Mason during a scuffle he was involved in with Mason and her friend Andrea Dillard. The physical altercation between the three people was preceded by a verbal argument also involving Davis’ longtime girlfriend, Cheviss Bennett.

The prosecution in the trial, led by assistant district attorneys Barrett Poppler and Jennifer Greene, have built a case that portrays Mason and Dillard as the instigators in the incident and have asserted that deadly force was not needed. The defense is arguing the killing was an act of self defense and that Mason shot Davis to save Dillard’s life. Mason described the moments leading up to her shooting Davis at near point blank range as a life-and-death situation.

“I wanted (Davis) to stop harming (Dillard) because I thought he was going to kill her,” Mason said.

Mason said Davis was choking Dillard when she fired her handgun. When questioned by defense attorney Ryan Stowe, Mason said she was taught in her concealed carry weapon classes she should shoot until the threat is neutralized, which is why she shot Davis first in the back and then again in the chest.

Mason told Stowe she was frightened of Davis that night because he had told her in a previous conversation that he’d “put his hands” on his girlfriend if she got out of line.

Mason also testified Davis punched her midsection multiple times and hit her on the head during the physical altercation. Stowe showed the jury pictures of Mason’s bruised midsection taken after the incident by Mason’s boyfriend. The photos showed large bruises, but they did not show Mason’s face.

The fact that Mason had a handgun in her possession inside Fishzilla that night was a point Poppler focused on during his cross examination. Poppler first established that Mason had entered Fishzilla dozens of times before the night of the shooting. He then asked why she would bring her gun in the building if she’d walked by the no firearms sign posted by the front door. Mason testified later she only realized she had the gun after she was knocked to the ground during the course of the physical altercation.

Poppler also pressed Mason about telling a detective after the shooting she had one and a half Mike’s Hard Lemonades. Poppler asked if Mason knew it was illegal to carry a concealed weapon while drinking. Mason testified she had only one Mike’s Hard Lemonade at most and consumed it six to eight hours before the incident.

Mason’s handgun wasn’t the only thing Poppler picked at during his cross examination. He also used a combination of rapid fire questions and camera footage to poke a hole in the defense’s inference that it was Mason’s phone thrown across the room before the brawl started, not the phone belonging to Davis.

Multiple witnesses for the prosecution testified they saw Mason throw Davis’ phone seconds before the argument turned physical. However, Mason testified her phone was knocked out of her hands and was separated into three pieces.

While Mason was on the stand Monday, Poppler introduced footage not shown previously of Mason pulling her phone from her jacket pocket in the wake of the shooting. After watching the footage, Mason said she was “mistaken” about her phone being broken, but she said she didn’t mean to lie or mislead with her testimony. Poppler used Mason’s admission to question if they could trust anything she remembers from the night of the shooting.

Poppler also asked Mason why she did not tell officers about being punched in the midsection immediately after the incident. He attempted to cast more doubt on her injuries by asking her why she didn’t return to the Salisbury Police Department once the bruises appeared to report them. He then asked why she didn’t show her face in the pictures captured by her boyfriend.

Following Mason’s testimony, the defense called two witnesses to the stand who both have law enforcement experience and are firearm experts. When defense attorney Todd Paris attempted to ask the witnesses about specific instructions given to concealed carry weapon permit holders, he was met with a bevy of objections about the information’s relevancy from the prosecution. 

Those objections were sustained by Judge Lori Hamilton and eventually led to a discussion between the prosecution, defense and Hamilton about whether or not Paris could use potential expert witnesses in the case. Hamilton indicated she did not think the witnesses could provide judgement that could be substituted for the jury’s own because they watched the same video and heard fewer witness accounts than the jurors. 

Following more discussion in which Paris pleaded to use his expert witnesses, Hamilton said she may allow an expert witness to testify about the type of ammunition used in Mason’s gun and other technical issues.

The jury will not be called to the courthouse today. Hamilton will conduct a charge conference with the prosecution and defense to determine what jury instructions will be given to the jury before their deliberations. Paris indicated the prosecution is down to its last few witnesses and will likely rest its case after that. At that point, closing arguments will be heard by both sides.