Guilty” Plea in Death of Tawana Barnes Copeland

Shawn Davis pleaded guilty today to one count of second-degree murder while armed in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Tawana Barnes Copeland. In pleading guilty, Davis faces a sentence of 14 to 18 years, USAO Spokesman William Miller said.

The plea comes a little more than two months after Davis was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder while armed. A trial date had been set for July.

Copeland was 41-years-old when she was brutally stabbed inside her Southeast DC apartment on Dec. 7, 2010. Detectives believed that her home had been staged to look as though a robbery had taken place. Davis was arrested on suspicion of murder in the case a little more than a month later.

At a preliminary hearing, Davis’ attorney said the government’s evidence against Davis was “entirely circumstantial.”

A press release from the US Attorney’s Office is below.

District Man Pleads Guilty to December 2010 Murder Of Southwest Washington Woman

- Defendant Staged the Scene to Make it Look Like the Victim Was Killed by a Burglar-

WASHINGTON - Shawn Davis, 37, of Washington, D.C., pled guilty today to the murder of Tawanna Barnes-Copeland, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced.

Davis pled guilty in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to the charge of second degree murder. He is to be sentenced March 2, 2012 by the Honorable Gerald I. Fisher.

According to a statement of facts signed by the defendant and submitted to the Court, Davis and Barnes-Copeland started a romantic relationship in the summer of 2010, but after a few months, Barnes-Copeland broke it off. Davis still had feelings for Barnes-Copeland, and he was jealous that she had moved on. Notwithstanding the break-up, the two remained in contact, and Barnes-Copeland would call Davis from time to time to ask him for favors.

In the early morning hours of December 7, 2010, Barnes-Copeland, 41, was at her apartment in the unit block of Galveston Place SW after suffering a leg injury at work. She called Davis and asked him if he would fill her prescription for pain medication.

Davis left his home and went to Barnes-Copeland’s apartment. After he arrived that morning, the two began arguing about their past relationship. Davis was angry that Barnes-Copeland still called him and asked him for favors, yet she did not want to be in a relationship with him. During this argument, the defendant grabbed a knife from the kitchen and went to the bedroom, where he stabbed Barnes-Copeland more than 10 times in the chest and neck.

After the murder, Davis tried to conceal his actions. Davis had previously lived with Barnes-Copeland, and he knew that her apartment had recently been burglarized by someone entering the kitchen window. Davis opened the kitchen window from inside the apartment and pushed the screen out. He also took Barnes-Copeland’s cell phone, and then arrived late for work. Barnes-Copeland’s body was not discovered until that evening, almost 12 hours later.

With no eyewitnesses or earwitnesses to the murder, lead homicide detective Gus Giannakoulias, of the Metropolitan Police Department, carefully pieced together the circumstantial evidence, all of which conclusively pointed to Davis.

On the evening of the murder, Davis provided the police with a false alibi, stating that he was at work at the time. The defendant’s cellular phone records placed the defendant in the area of the murder, and also showed him in contact with Barnes-Copeland before the murder. Moreover, the defendant took Barnes-Copeland’s phone from the apartment, and records showed that her phone was located at his place of employment (along with the defendant’s phone) at the time the defendant arrived at work, which was several hours late. Coupled with motive and forensic evidence, Giannakoulias soon obtained a warrant for Davis’s arrest in January 2011. A grand jury indicted Davis on one count of first degree murder in August 2011.

In announcing the guilty plea, U.S. Attorney Machen praised the work of those who investigated the case for the Metropolitan Police Department, including lead Detectives Gus Giannakoulias and James Wilson, as well as Detectives Anthony Greene, Norma Horne, Joshua Branson, and Gabriel Truby. He also expressed appreciation for the efforts of those who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Larry Grasso of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, Victim/Witness Advocate Marcia Rinker, and Paralegal Kwasi Fields. Finally, he thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh, who led the grand jury investigation and prosecuted the case.

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