The trial of the Texas woman charged with murdering her husband, Lee native Michael Leslie Severance, will stay in San Angelo, court officials in Texas said Wednesday.
Judge Tom Gossett of the 51st Judicial District Court of Tom Green County rejected a motion by Wendi Mae Davidson to move her trial to Odessa, about 100 miles northwest of San Angelo, because intense media coverage had soured her chances to get impartial jurors.
In the transfer motions, Davidson, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, herself signed a sworn affidavit claiming that a local Texas newspaper and two local TV news stations have generated publicity over her case that “has been pervasive, prejudicial and inflammatory.”
“The population of this community has been saturated with negative information regarding my case,” Davidson said in documents released eight days ago by court officials.
They counted 65 stories aired or written on the murder since Air Force investigators began investigating the disappearance of Severance, an Air Force staff sergeant who grew up in Lee and went missing Jan. 15, 2005.
Gossett ruled Tuesday that the media coverage was fair and impartial, not sensationalistic, and that the best way to determine whether jurors could be fair was to try to pick some, court officials said.
The jury selection process, in which defense attorneys, the judge and prosecutors interview and select a 12-member, two-alternate jury, will begin Monday, court officials said.
Both sides will debate Monday a defense motion seeking dismissal of almost all evidence found, including Severance’s body, because the placement by Air Force investigators of a tracking device on Davidson’s car violated Davidson’s rights.
Prosecutors have filed a countering brief saying Air Force investigator Greg McCormick did not need court permission and was following Air Force procedures governing the discovery of missing and possibly AWOL service personnel.
Davidson, 28, is charged with using drugs normally employed to euthanize animals to poison Severance, 24, and stabbing his body 41 times at her veterinary clinic before dumping it in a San Angelo pond owned by a family friend, landowner Terrell Sheen, on Jan. 15, 2005.
She also is charged with trying to destroy records pertaining to the drugs.
Davidson was arrested March 5, 2005, a day before the body was found, after allegedly telling her brother Marshall Davidson that she had found her husband dead early Jan. 15 and buried him because she feared another family member had killed him. Grand jury charges followed in May. She is free on bail.
Severance was stationed at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, at the time of his death and lived in San Angelo with his wife at her clinic.
The Severance family of Lee has declined comment on the proceedings since Gossett issued a warning to all trial witnesses and court officers to avoid cooperating with the media for fear of tainting the jury pool. They are among more than 65 people who have been subpoenaed to testify.
Those due to testify include Michael’s father, Leslie Severance; Leslie’s live-in girlfriend, Brinda Leighton; her daughter, Nicole Leighton; and Michael’s brother, Frank Severance.
Wendi Davidson’s parents, Judi and Lloyd Davidson of San Angelo, and her brother Marshall also have been subpoenaed. During a deposition taken last summer for the ongoing civil court battle for custody of Michael’s son, the Davidsons admitted that they disliked Michael Severance – Judi Davidson said she hated him – but they denied any knowledge of his murder.
Sheen; Jamie Crouch, a part-time receptionist at the clinic who might have been working the weekend of Severance’s disappearance; and Joel Bird and Jason Burdine, ex-boyfriends of Wendi Davidson’s, also are subpoenaed, court officials have said.
The trial is expected to last as long as two weeks, unless Gossett rules in favor of the defense motion striking the use of the surveillance device. If that happens, Davidson’s attorney has said, the prosecution would lack enough evidence to proceed.