WOODBURY – A state appeals court has set a fourth trial for a man accused of killing a Paulsboro woman in 2012.
The decision overturned a charge of aggravated murder against Samuel K. Davis, who was serving a life sentence for killing 70-year-old Tirzah Sweeten.
The ruling said the prosecutor’s “unmistakably improper” comments at the last trial violated Davis’ double jeopardy defense against being tried twice for the same crime.
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The prosecutor told jurors that the fatal attack at Sweeten’s home “was not premeditated. This was done intentionally and deliberately,” the May 24 decision reads.
Court of Appeal cites double jeopardy protection
The appeals court said the prosecutor’s statements were “tantamount to convicting (Davis) of first-degree murder,” not the indictable crime of aggravated murder.
But as noted, the Paulsboro man was acquitted of murder charges at his first trial in 2015.
The double jeopardy provision therefore barred prosecutors from “proving — or arguing” the case for murder at any future trial, the three-judge panel found.
A spokesman for the Gloucester County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the pending case.
Sweeten’s body was found beaten, stabbed and strangled in her home in March 2012. A golf club and a knife were found at the crime scene.
Witness: Samuel Davis was outside the victim’s home
At the first trial, a witness testified that she saw Davis outside the window of Sweeten’s home shortly before the woman’s death. Sweeten’s grown son, who was hospitalized at the time of the attack, said Davis often climbed through a bedroom window to visit him.
In 2015, a jury found Davis guilty of aggravated murder, but that conviction was overturned in July 2017. The appellate court’s ruling at the time overruled the trial judge’s answer to the jury’s question.
A second trial on aggravated murder charges ended in a mistrial in June 2019. The third trial took place over nine days later in the summer of the same year.
Jim Walsh is a senior reporter for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.