FARGO — Cass County prosecutors plan to present evidence that claim a Fargo man allegedly killed his ex-girlfriend because he feared accusations that he raped her would send him to jail, according to court documents.
A brief filed March 6 asks Judge Tristan Van de Streek to allow reports that Sheldon George Davis sexually assaulted, physically abused and stalked 52-year-old Denise Anderson in the weeks leading up to her death last summer. The 31-page document mentions statements allegedly made by Davis to potential witnesses, including he wanted to buy a gun, he didn’t want to go to jail for allegedly raping Anderson and he talked about burning his apartment down a week before Anderson’s death.
One potential witness is expected to testify that Davis told Anderson numerous times he would “wreck her life and kill her,” according to the brief.
“Anderson’s three police reports against the defendant shortly before her death — and more importantly, the defendant’s knowledge that he was under investigation as a result of these reports — is strongly probative of the defendant’s motive to kill Anderson,” the brief said. “With a police investigation looming — and knowing that Anderson was the complainant and key witness — the defendant decided to silence her.”
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Davis, who is being held on a $1 million bond at the Cass County Jail, appeared Thursday, March 12, in Cass County District Court on felony charges of murder, endangering by fire or explosion and arson in connection to Anderson’s death. Her body was found Aug. 1 at Davis’ apartment, 417 12th St. N., while firefighters were responding to a blaze there.
Police believe she died from traumatic injuries, according to a criminal complaint.
Thursday’s hearing, which can be used to determine if a defendant is ready for trial or plans to change his plea, was postponed until April 15 so the defense could have time to respond to the brief. Davis' attorney, David Ogren, had not filed a response in court by Friday, March 13.
Ogren did not return phone messages left by The Forum. Cass County Assistant State's Attorney Renata Olafson Selzer was unavailable for comment.
Van de Streek will hear arguments on April 13 on whether to allow the state's evidence.
'Desire to control her'
The state has endorsed more than 100 witnesses that could testify during the trial, including law enforcement, crime lab experts, health professionals and witnesses who are expected to speak to statements made by Anderson and Davis before her death.
The brief details how the Fargo Police Department started to investigate allegations that Davis raped Anderson on June 30 at her apartment, resulting in several injuries. Police took the report on June 30.
On July 15, Anderson called police again to report that Davis was stalking her, the brief said. She told a detective Davis said, “I will do whatever it takes to destroy your life,” the brief said.
Court documents state Anderson and Davis continued to date after the reports were made, but Anderson told police she applied for a restraining order, the brief said.
Davis denied the rape allegations, the brief said. He previously told The Forum he knew nothing about the fire or Anderson's death.
Prosecutors also want to admit into court a police report that Davis vandalized Anderson’s car in July, dispatch calls and text messages.
“The violence and brutality with which Anderson was killed are indicative of a murderer who had a deeply personal grudge against Anderson and a desire to control her,” the brief said.
Family and friends have criticized law enforcement for not getting more involved in preventing Anderson's death. Police have said they couldn't do that under state law since "estranged friends" aren't covered under domestic violence laws.
Anderson's son, Nicholas Berlin, has said he hopes Davis gets the maximum punishment — life in prison without the chance of parole. In a Friday phone interview with The Forum, he also questioned why police didn't arrest Davis after his mother reported the rape.
"They're doing what they can to convict him right now," he said of prosecutors. "They're doing all the best they can, whatever they can do now. It's too late, but it's still better than nothing."