Gov. Northam pardons Portsmouth man sentenced to die in prison for robbery

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Posted at 10:15 AM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 23:16:28-05

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Governor Ralph Northam has granted a conditional pardon for Ronald Davis, a Portsmouth man sentenced to serve 80 years in prison for a string of armed robberies during his senior year in high school that resulted in no deaths or injuries.

News 3 broke the story of his pardon appeal in the summer of 2020.

“I deserve a punishment. Robbery is a serious crime deserving a serious punishment, but to have my whole life taken away from me as an 18-year-old child [is excessive],” Davis said during an exclusive interview with News 3 investigator Jessica Larche. “I don't deserve this.”

News 3 confirmed this week Davis will be released from prison in December 2023, decades earlier than his original release date of January 2068. Davis has spent 24 years in prison for the 1997 string of robberies.

His pardon plea received support from state lawmakers, including state Senators Lionel Spruill and Joseph Morrissey, and state delegates Don Scott and Sam Rasoul.

By the time Davis turned 18 and was entering his senior year in high school at I.C. Norcom in Portsmouth, he said he turned to heroin to self-medicate for emotional disorders. Davis said he went along with his friends’ plans to rob local businesses in the fall of 1997 to support his drug habit.

“I never knew that me just playing along, going along, my whole life could be taken away from me,” Davis said. “I had one bad year, and it's cost me everything.”

Over the course of nine days — October 16, 1997, through October 25, 1997 — Davis and his co-defendants targeted seven businesses across Hampton Roads. Their robbery spree is explained in Davis’ conditional pardon petition:

The first two robberies were on the same day, October 16. Davis and co-defendant Eugene McCoade robbed a Red Barn restaurant in Suffolk and a Southern Food convenience store in Isle of Wight. McCoade was armed with a gun. No one was hurt, nor did Davis touch anyone.

On October 20, Davis and co-defendant Deron Brown robbed a Burger King [in Newport News]. Brown was the one with a gun. No one was hurt, nor did Davis touch anyone.

On October 23, Davis and Brown robbed a clothing store [Church Street Discount in Norfolk]. Again, Brown carried the weapon. No one was hurt, nor did Davis touch anyone.

On October 24, the two robbed a McDonald’s [in Newport News]. Brown again carried the gun. No one was hurt, nor did Davis touch anyone.

Finally, on October 25, Davis and Brown committed two robberies, including one in Norfolk [at Sentry Food Mart] where Davis carried the gun and one in Newport News [at the Night and Day Food Market] where Brown carried the gun. As in all the other robberies, no one was hurt, nor did Davis touch anyone.

“I make no excuses for what I've done,” David said. “I think about those victims all the time.”

Because Davis committed the crimes in four different jurisdictions, he faced four separate trials. Convictions from each trial increased the sentencing guidelines for each trial that followed, ending in a combined sentence of 80 years for the crime spree.

“Eighty years? And he's 18 years old? What [does] that mean? I'm going to be dead [when he’s released],” said Joan Davis, Ronald Davis’ mother. “I think he's fighting to come home to his mama.”

Davis’ push for a pardon from Northam also gained the support of a former Newport News prosecutor whose efforts helped put Davis in prison.

“The facts really don't justify the amount of time that he got,” said Richmond-based attorney Matt Danielson. “It was really a product of the sentencing guidelines and the mandatory minimums for firearms that the court's hands are kind of tied.”

“Granted, [it was] a dangerous act of stupidity, someone could have gotten hurt, but nonetheless an act of stupidity by someone who had just turned 18. Are you the same person today that you were 22 years ago? I'm not,” Danielson said. “What do the citizens of the Commonwealth get out of this man being incarcerated a single day longer? The answer is pretty clear. Nothing.”

“This is my dream - to be free,” Davis said. “I'm more than the worst thing I’ve done.”

Because Davis was sentenced after parole was abolished in Virginia, his only avenue for early release was through a conditional pardon granted by the governor. Davis’ attorney, Jon Shapiro of Washington and Lee University, filed the conditional pardon petition in May 2019.

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