JUDGE VACATES KILLER’S CHILD MOLESTATION CONVICTION IN 2006 RAPE, MURDER OF 8-YEAR-OLD SAVANNAH SMITH
October 21, 2019
PROVIDENCE — A Superior Court judge last week vacated a Woonsocket man’s conviction for raping an 8-year-old girl in 2006, finding that he wasn’t informed that he would remain under mandatory community supervision as a sex offender if he is ever released on parole.
Judge Susan E. McGuirl vacated Joshua Davis’s admission to first-degree child molestation in the kidnapping, rape and murder of Savannah Smith. McGuirl, however, let stand Davis’s convictions for first-degree murder and kidnapping, for which he is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus a consecutive life sentence.
McGuirl concluded in the 49-page ruling that Davis’s guilty plea to first-degree child molestation was not knowing and voluntary because there was no indication that either the trial judge, the now state Supreme Court Justice Gilbert V. Indeglia; or Davis’s lawyers, the late John Hardiman and now District Court Judge Anthony Capraro, had told Davis of the extensive community supervision requirements he would face.
“The Court acknowledges that the petitioner faced the probable imposition of a most severe penalty — life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder — but is nonetheless entitled to the protections of our Constitution for all the pleas he planned to enter,” McGuirl wrote.
McGuirl noted that she agreed with Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter’s ruling in the case of Robert Furlong, a Warwick father who admitted to molesting his young daughter over the course of years.
Taft-Carter in July vacated Furlong’s no-contest pleas to two counts of second-degree child molestation, ruling that he wasn’t fully informed about the consequences of his pleas because he wasn’t told that he would be subject to community supervision for up to 30 years after completing his probation.
Davis’s crimes struck fear into parents throughout the state at the time.
Savannah, her sister Danielle and their cousin Brianna helped Davis wash his red convertible outside his home on Coe Street in Woonsocket on May 7, 2006. She and her sister asked to go for a ride in his car, but her father, David Smith, told them no. The girls went to the Globe Street playground. About a half hour later, one of Savannah’s younger sisters and her cousin returned home and told David Smith that Savannah had left the park in Davis’s car.
Davis drove her to a secluded area off Parkview Boulevard in Cranston, where he beat and raped her before strangling her to death.
The police found Savannah’s naked body several hours later. A medical examiner testified that many of Savannah’s injuries had been inflicted while she was alive. There was evidence that she had suffered a brain hemorrhage after being struck on the head and there were the tell-tale marks of strangulation on her neck.
Cuts and bruises on her legs showed that the 4-foot-3, 42-pound child tried to fight off her captor. A used condom, with Davis’ semen and Savannah’s blood, was found at the scene.
Davis was the 28th criminal to receive the maximum sentence allowable under state law enacted in 1984. Of all the life sentences, none was for a crime “more cruel, heartless, savage or vicious as what this defendant did to this child,” Indeglia said.
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