Teen could face death in Candler slayings
A Weaverville teen accused of killing two people in a Candler home could face the death penalty if convicted, a judge told him Thursday.
Wearing a brown jail jumpsuit with shackles on his hands and ankles, Kevin Levi Davis, 18, made his first appearance Thursday in Buncombe County District Court. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sandra Ratcliff Thomas, 63, and Clifford Joseph Dembinski, 55.
Judge Julie Kepple told Davis — recently left unemployed and cut off from family — that he could face a potential sentence of death or life in prison without parole on the murder charges.
He also faces a vehicle theft charge. Investigators say Davis stole Thomas’ car.
Davis requested a court-appointed attorney and will next appear in court June 27. He remained held without bond at the Buncombe County Detention Facility.
No family members were present for Davis or the two victims in the case. A person who answered the phone at Davis’ home Thursday declined to comment.
Buncombe sheriff’s deputies on Wednesday charged Davis with killing Thomas and Dembinski, whose bodies were found Tuesday afternoon following a suspicious house fire at Thomas’ home at 52 Hubbard Lane.
Davis, driving Thomas’ Honda Civic, was taken into custody Wednesday in Lincolnton, about 95 miles east of the murder scene.
Dembinski was Thomas’ nearby neighbor and friend who also lived on Hubbard Lane, family members said.
Davis is a distant relative of Thomas and had been at her home a few days before the killings, family members said.
Sheriff Van Duncan said he could not discuss details of the case, including a motive or how Thomas and Dembinski were killed.
Their bodies have been sent for autopsies. But the discovery of the bodies and the fire itself were suspicious from the beginning, the sheriff said.
'A downward spiral'
Friends remember Davis as a normal, likable teenager whose life took a turn last winter.
After high school, Davis had a good job at the Arvato plant in Weaverville but was laid off in the fall.
Sometime in early winter, his personality changed, said Van Wharton, 19, who graduated with Davis last spring from North Buncombe High School and was one of his best friends
“I remember him being all right, and then he started acting differently,” Wharton said. “He got sketchy. It just seemed like a downward spiral.”
It was difficult to pinpoint exactly what was going wrong with his friend, he said. Davis began taking large amounts of cold medicine, and his personality was different.
“He was just a little bit distant,” Wharton said.
Davis, who played basketball for North Buncombe his senior year, lived with his mother and stepfather and his two younger sisters most of his high school years, Wharton said.
But in his senior year, Davis went to live with his grandparents. After high school, he bounced from one friend’s home to another, never lasting long in any one place.
“I think his family would have supported him if he had let them,” Wharton said.
Davis stayed with three friends in their apartment for several months, but they kicked him out, Wharton said.
His girlfriend at the time, a UNC Asheville student, let Davis stay at her apartment for a while, and he lived with Wharton’s family for several weeks in January before Wharton’s father made him leave.
“My dad said there was something about him he didn’t like, and he had to leave,” Wharton said.
A recent incident caused him to further question Davis’ state of mind.
“A week or two ago, he posted on Facebook that one of his sisters had died,” Wharton said. “Then I saw her at church. She was very much alive.”
If Davis is guilty of the charges against him, Wharton said he couldn’t be sure of a motive, and he never would have thought of Davis being involved in a murder case.
“That’s just crazy,” he said.