NBC’s newsmagazine Dateline was in Charlottesville this morning to interview Robert Davis, the Crozet man who was pardoned by Governor Terry McAuliffe December 21 after spending nearly 13 years in prison.
Davis was 18 years old when he was charged in the 2003 murders of Nola “Ann” Charles and her toddler son, whose bodies were found in their Cling Lane home after a fire was extinguished. Siblings Rocky and Jessica Fugett, both convicted in the murders, said he was present at the slayings.
Davis and his lawyer, Steve Rosenfield, have long contended he was innocent and made a false confession during a coercive police interview. The Fugetts have since recanted and in sworn affidavits said Davis was not there and had nothing to do with the murders.
Dateline’s Keith Morrison says, “This has been an important story for us. Robert seemed to be the poster child for false confession. It’s an important issue to watch.”
Dateline NBC started reporting on the case in 2012, as Rosenfield prepared a clemency petition to go to Governor Bob McDonnell. The petition languished and was never investigated, and McDonnell denied it on his last day in office. McAuliffe’s staff spent two years investigating the case, and the governor issued a conditional pardon before Christmas that released Davis from Coffeewood Correctional Center.
It is not unusual for Dateline to spend years working on a story, says producer Carol Gable. “Some of them turn around in 24 hours,” she says. “Others can take years and years. I don’t believe this is the longest one Keith and I have worked on.”
Morrison, who has been to Charlottesville multiple times over the past few years for this story, interviewed Davis in front of The Nook and along the Downtown Mall. And while the innocence of some people he’s interviewed can be ambiguous, Morrison doesn’t feel that’s the case with Davis. “Robert spent a lot of years in prison when he shouldn’t have been there,” he says. “This is a clear example of an innocent man in prison.”
Also on hand during the filming were Rosenfield and Davis’ brother, local musician Lester Seal, who is planning a benefit for Davis with local bands February 20 at the Ix complex.
The Dateline episode on Davis is tentatively scheduled to run in February, according to Gable.