Jury begins deliberations in Fishzilla murder case

Published 12:10 am Thursday, September 23, 2021

SALISBURY — A jury began deliberating Wednesday afternoon in the Fishzilla murder case, but a verdict wasn’t reached on the guilt or innocence of Dedric Michelle Mason.

Mason, 45, is facing charges of second-degree murder for the April 21, 2018 killing of James Christopher Davis, known to friends and family as “Milkbone.” Davis died in the early morning hours shortly after being shot twice by Mason during a scuffle he was involved in with Mason and her friend Andrea Dillard at the Fishzilla Arcade at 1812 E. Innes St. The physical altercation between the three people was preceded by a verbal argument also involving Davis’ longtime girlfriend, Cheviss Bennett.

The prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorneys Barrett Poppler and Jennifer Greene, built a case that paints Mason and Dillard as instigators in the scuffle and asserts that Mason’s killing was illegal. The defense, led by Ryan Stowe and Todd Paris, argued that Mason acted within the law by defending herself and her friend.

The jury is deciding whether to convict Mason of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or acquit her of the charges. Second-degree murder is generally an unlawful killing with malice. Voluntary manslaughter is an unlawful killing without malice.

The 12 jurors began their deliberations shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday following the closing arguments from the prosecution and defense. Stowe addressed the jury first and circled back to the same assertion he made in his opening statement — that the case is less about murder than it is about self defense and the defense of others.

Stowe used a slideshow presentation in an attempt to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. To drive home his point, Stowe employed an iceberg analogy in an effort to convince jurors that the prosecution’s case contained only a fraction of the evidence. In Stowe’s analogy, the smaller portion of the iceberg above the water was the evidence the jury was presented with while the much larger portion underneath the waves was evidence the jury didn’t see.

Stowe also asked jurors to consider that Davis was much taller than Mason or Dillard, even comparing Davis to a boxer with far reach. He emphasized Mason’s testimony that she knew before the scuffle Davis had a propensity for violence. Stowe said Mason’s shooting was warranted because Davis was choking Dillard and Mason’s actions didn’t contain malice.

Like Stowe, Paris employed an analogy while asking the jury to acquit Mason. He told jurors he is a diabetic and, as a result, hasn’t been able to eat wheat-crusted pizza in years. Paris said he has eaten pizzas with cauliflower crust, but those pizzas have left him unsatisfied. Each and every member of the jury, Paris said, must be fully and completely satisfied that Mason is guilty. 

Paris told jurors potential sentences Mason could receive for second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, emphasizing she could be in jail for 25 years for murder and seven for manslaughter. The jury does not decide the sentence of someone who they convict. That responsibility falls to the judge, who uses a structured sentencing chart.

In the final moments of his closing argument, Paris told jurors Mason had no choice but to shoot Davis because he was choking her friend and no one else at Fishzilla stepped in to stop him. Paris said Davis may have had fine qualities, but “if he hadn’t beaten these two women like men, he wouldn’t have gotten shot that night.” 

Paris finished by saying there is only sadness in the case. Sending an innocent woman to jail won’t correct anything that happened the night of the shooting, he said.

Poppler delivered the closing argument for the prosecution. He started by recapping the shooting in Fishzilla and the events leading up to it, stating that Mason and Dillard went out that night “looking to cause trouble.” He said the two women provoked the argument with Bennett that led to the altercation with Davis. Poppler said Mason ignited the fight by throwing Davis’ phone across the room. Poppler told the jury Mason wants to “wipe her hands clean” of her deadly actions, but that the law won’t let her.

Poppler walked the jury through the witnesses who testified in the trial, highlighting information each provided that helped the prosecution’s case. Poppler emphasized to the jury that multiple witnesses inside Fishzilla during the shooting testified they did not believe anyone’s lives to be in danger during the scuffle.

Using pictures of Mason and Dillard taken after the incident, Poppler said their claimed injuries were minor or nonexistent. He asked jurors to compare Mason and Dillard’s injuries with the fact that Davis is dead. 

Poppler then showed the jury a slideshow presentation highlighting what the prosecution needed to prove for a guilty verdict for second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

Poppler’s closing argument was followed by a lunch break. Once the court returned from its recess, the defense challenged the accuracy of a statement Poppler made during his speech to jurors. 

Appearing to argue that Mason used excessive force by shooting Davis twice, Poppler told jurors Mason testified she felt that Davis was no longer a threat after she shot him the first time. A re-reading of Mason’s testimony revealed that Poppler’s statement was incorrect and that Mason testified that she felt the threat was over after the second shot.

After saying Poppler’s mistake was “tantamount to a really big problem,” Paris motioned for a mistrial. Paris said the misstatement could impact the jury’s belief as to whether Mason acted with “excessive force,” which is an element of the charges brought against her.

Judge Lori Hamilton denied the motion for a mistrial, but told Poppler he could correct his statement to the jury or she would correct it herself. When the jury was called back into the room, Poppler explained to them that he had misunderstood Mason’s testimony. He also reminded jurors that they should rely solely on their recollection of the facts presented during the trial, not the statements he made in his closing argument.

Hamilton delivered lengthy and specific instructions to the jurors and sent them to begin deliberations. After about 45 minutes, the court recessed for the day. The jury will meet again to begin deliberations this morning.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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