Searching for Justice: Man’s hope of getting out of prison sooner halted by amended criminal justice reform measure

Published: Apr. 18, 2023 at 7:21 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In part two of our series, Searching for Justice, we’re following the story of Kion Davis, who has maintained his innocence since being convicted of a bank robbery in 2001. He chose to have a trial by jury, and on April 25, 2001, he was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to 28 years in prison by that same jury.

David Steidle is the president and owner of Steidle Law Firm in Roanoke. He says, “Judges have the opportunity to overturn jury sentences, but it’s rare.”

Laws in recent years passed through the Virginia General Assembly have greatly impacted our criminal justice system. Steidle explained more about a relatively new reform that lets the defendant choose whether a jury or the judge decides the sentence.

“Juries give more, historically give harsher sentences, than if a judge sentences a defendant,” he said.

When it comes to the sentence, as Steidle explains, there is a point system and guidelines set by the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

“He’s charged with this particular charge, that gives him three points. Sometimes they base it on age. He’s 18 years old, that gives him two points. He’s 32 years old, that gives him one point.”

Steidle says the points are then added up and the guidelines will dictate the sentence.

“There’s a whole system of things that the government is trying to put in place to make this a better system and we’ve just got to keep working at it. We can always make it better,” Steidle said.

As for Kion, he has appealed his case all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court, but has been denied. He also reached out to the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, but the group ultimately decided to not take on his case.

It was another new reform that passed in 2020 that gave Kion a hope of returning to life outside prison walls. The Virginia General Assembly voted to expand the earned sentence credit program, allowing some inmates an opportunity to get out of prison sooner.

It would have worked by letting inmates serving consecutive sentences for violent and non-violent crimes to earn 4.5 sentence credits a month for the violent crime and 15 credits a month for the non-violent crime. The expanded program was set to take effect on July 1, 2022, but in June 2022, a budget amendment was passed that changed it. Inmates like Kion, serving time for violent and non-violent crimes, can only earn 4.5 credits a month and are no longer eligible to earn 15 credits toward the non-violent crimes they are serving time for.

“Many of the felonies that were included in the original legislation had been removed from the sentence credit,” said Tom Scott, a visiting professor of law at the Appalachian School of Law.

“Inmates that have been convicted of any one or more crimes that have since been removed from the list must serve their full sentence with basically a 15% credit. So, they’re going to serve 85% of their time,” Scott said.

Kion will now serve 25 of his 28-year sentence. He’s set to be released in October 2025.

Kion says he plans to keep fighting his conviction and won’t be satisfied until it’s overturned. He’ll continue searching for justice.

For a more in-depth look into Kion’s story and to hear from criminal justice reform organizations, here is the “Searching for Justice” podcast: