Murder trial begins for man charged in deadly house fire

Davis’ case one of the first jury trials since the pandemic began

Murder trial begins for man charged in deadly house fire

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Six years after two people were killed in a house fire, the man blamed for their murder is going on trial. Harry Levert Davis, who was 23-years-old at the time of his arrest, is charged with setting a deadly house fire two days before Christmas in 2014. While prosecutors were originally seeking the death penalty in this case, they are now seeking life in prison if Davis is convicted.

The fire on Lingo Street claimed the lives of Pamela Pickett, 51, and her great-niece Makayla Pickett, 14. Crews with the Wilmington Fire Department were called to the property around 5 a.m., and reported seeing heavy flames when they arrived. Several people were still inside. In addition to the two deaths, emergency crews took three people to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Davis is charged with setting a house fire that killed two people. He could face the death penalty if convicted. (Source: NHCSO)
Davis is charged with setting a house fire that killed two people. He could face the death penalty if convicted. (Source: NHCSO) (Source: New Hanover County Sheriff's Office)

Authorities say Davis was in a dispute with a Pickett family member when he lit fire to the family’s home. Makayla Pickett, who was blind, was never able to escape the house. Pamela Pickett made it outside, but did not survive. Two young women who survived the fire are expected to testify at trial.

Davis is facing one count of first-degree arson, two counts of first-degree murder, and three counts of attempted first-degree murder. He has been in the New Hanover County jail awaiting trial for over six years, under a $2.6 million bond. In addition to the charges connected to the fire, he is charged with violating a domestic violence protective order.

This case has taken an unusually long time to go to trial. The initial attorney assigned to the case, Capital Defender Rick Miller, submitted a motion to withdraw from the case because of a conflict of interest. James Payne and Mike Ramos took over Davis’ case, and the change caused delays. After prosecutors decided this would not be a capital case, Ramos withdrew as one of the defense attorneys. Payne remains on the case, and will face District Attorney Ben David and prosecutor Connie Jordan in court.

Davis’ case is one of the first jury trials since judicial proceedings were disrupted in March of 2020. To accommodate social distancing, the jury will be spread out in the courtroom where the audience typically sits, and witnesses will testify from the jury box. Since members of the public will not be able to be inside the courtroom, courthouse officials are setting up a camera and anyone interested in watching the trial can request a video link from the District Attorney’s office.

Jury selection in Davis’ case began Monday, and could take all week to finish before opening arguments get underway. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

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