FARGO — Prosecutors plan to argue a Fargo man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend tried to intimidate her into withdrawing allegations that he sexually assaulted and stalked her in the weeks leading up to her death.
Attorneys and Cass County Judge Tristan Van de Streek hashed over on Wednesday, March 3, what jurors may be allowed to review when Sheldon George Davis, 46, goes to trial Thursday in connection to the summer 2019 death of 52-year-old Denise Anderson.
Davis faces a Class AA felony of murder and two Class B felonies: endangering by fire or explosion and arson. He maintains someone else is responsible for Anderson's death.
The trial is scheduled to last 10 days.
It’s unclear exactly when Anderson died, but authorities found her body the morning of Aug. 1, 2019, at Davis’ apartment after responding to a fire there, according to court documents. Investigators determined someone intentionally set the fire, according to a brief filed by prosecutors.
Prosecutors will argue Davis got into an argument with Anderson sometime on July 31 or Aug. 1, 2019, before hitting her over the head with a cast-iron skillet. That blow knocked her unconscious, prosecutors said.
Photos will show marks on both Davis' and Anderson's bodies that will prove they fought with each other before she was killed, prosecutors said.
Grand Forks Assistant State’s Attorneys Carmell Mattison and Megan Kvasager Essig are expected to argue Davis tried to confront Anderson about her claims in reports to police that he physically and sexually assaulted her on June 30, 2019, according to court documents. Anderson also told police she suspected Davis of vandalizing her vehicle on July 12, 2019. On July 15 of that year she reported that Davis was harassing and stalking her.
The alleged stalking incidents included Davis showing up outside the Cass County Courthouse, outside Anderson's gym and watching her from outside her home, court documents said.
Anderson also told friends and family about the alleged assault. In a text message to her son, Nicholas Berlin, she said, “Sheldon almost killed me last night.” She claimed in another message in mid-July that Davis said “he would ruin my life.”
No charges were filed against Davis for those incidents, but prosecutors allege Davis tried to intimidate Anderson into recanting those reports.
Lenny Wilds II is expected to testify about a conversation he and Davis had around 5:30 a.m. Aug. 1, 2019. Davis told Wilds he “did something bad” and started a fire in his apartment by leaving the stove on, according to court documents. Davis also talked about killing Anderson because of pending domestic and sexual assault charges, court documents alleged.
Davis denied those allegations, suggesting that another person killed Anderson. That’s why his attorney has subpoenaed former Cass County Assistant Attorney Leah Viste. He claims Viste could offer testimony to prove there is another suspect that police didn’t seek out.
Viste told The Forum her friendship with a witness who could testify in the case may have played a role in her termination as a prosecutor. She was not involved in prosecuting Davis’ case and disclosed her relationship with the witness to prosecutors who were on the case.
Viste didn't tell Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick about the friendship.
Cass County turned the case over to Grand Forks prosecutors, citing an unnamed conflict.
While he didn’t make a ruling on what evidence could be entered into the record, Van de Streek said he would likely allow testimony from officers and friends who heard Anderson’s sexual assault, stalking and vandalism claims. He did note the trial was about the death of Anderson, not about sexual assault, vandalism or stalking.
The judge said he likely would not allow jurors to hear that Anderson thought Davis called her repeatedly from private or false phone numbers, as there is no evidence to support that.
“We have some problems with hearsay,” Van de Streek said.
Also in question is a note shown in a video that says, “Sheldon is going to kill me.” It was apparently written days before her death, prosecutors said. However, prosecutors acknowledged Anderson denied writing the note.
Autopsy photos also will show the extent of Anderson’s injuries and prove she was knocked unconscious by a skillet, Mattison said. Van de Streek ruled some photos inadmissible since autopsy procedures made the injuries look worse than they were, which he said could be prejudicial against Davis.
Prosecutors also plan to play audio from phone conversations between Davis and Anderson, as well as other text messages.
Davis’ attorney, Jared Gietzen, is expected to make several objections when evidence is presented in court, including whether the vandalism and stalking allegations should be presented to jurors.