After a day of dramatic testimony Wednesday in the 2021 slaying of Mary Kate Tibbitts, a judge ordered suspect Troy Davis held to answer to murder and other charges at trial.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman issued the order after hearing testimony from a Sacramento police detective who said Davis admitted twice that he had broken into her Land Park home and attacked her, and that he said later his actions were “unthinkable, immoral s---.”
The testimony by homicide Detective Pamela Massee came during a preliminary hearing for Davis, who is charged with murder and breaking into her home with intent to commit rape, as well as other counts in what is expected to be a death penalty prosecution.
Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney Matt Chisholm, Massee described interviewing Davis three times after his arrest in the Sept. 3, 2021, slaying, with each of the interviews videotaped after Davis had been advised of his rights.
Davis was arrested a day after the slaying, in part because video cameras near Tibbitts’ home captured images of a man masturbating on a neighbor’s porch the night she was killed.
That Ring video caught part of a tattoo on the man’s stomach that read “Area” and a search of criminal databases turned up evidence that Davis had a stomach tattoo that reads “Bay Area.”
The video evidence led police to Davis, and Massee said she first interviewed him at police headquarters on Sept. 4, where he appeared to be nodding off as he came down from a methamphetamine high.
During that three-hour interview, Massee said Davis confirmed he was the man in the Ring video but claimed he had been in Tibbitts’ backyard partying with the 61-year-old woman.
“He said they were partying in the backyard and smoking blunts and having a good time,” Massee said, referring to marijuana.
Davis also told her that he had had consensual sex with Tibbitts, including what he described as “heavy petting.”
“He was actually very clear and concise with his answers,” she said.
But Davis changed his story later that day as he was being processed into the Sacramento County Main Jail, she said.
Davis overheard her discussing having to find Tibbitts’ relatives to notify them about the slaying when Davis said he wanted to talk to her again, Massee testified.
“He said he wanted to talk about the whole story,” and was taken to an interview room where his one-hour interview was recorded on video, she said.
“He started to think about himself and his own family and he wanted to disclose what happened,” Massee said, adding that he blamed his behavior on meth use and mental health problems.
“He described the experience as an out-of-body experience,” she said, adding that he talked of going into Tibbitts’ backyard through an unlocked gate, then opening a kitchen window and crawling inside after removing his pants and shoes.
Once inside, he went to the home’s back bedroom and found Tibbitts asleep, then lifted the sheets to find her naked as she woke up, Massee said.
“You know why I am here,” Davis told Tibbitts, according to Massee’s testimony.
Tibbitts tried to fight Davis off, but he punched and choked her and bound her wrists behind her back, Massee said, and Davis told her during one of the interviews that he set the fires to cover up what he had done.
“He said that he needed to do to the house what he does to meth,” Massee said. “Burn it.”
Tibbitts was found inside dead with severe bruising to her face and a lanyard knotted several times around her neck, Massee said.
“She was severely burned and her fingers and toes were missing,” Massee said.
Massee said the house had been ransacked when police arrived after reports of a fire at the home, with drawers open, belongings strewn on the floor and feathers from pillows throughout the house.
Four fires had been set inside the home, Sacramento Fire Department arson investigator Zak Nokes testified, and when firefighters tried to get inside they found the front door barricaded with a chair.
In a third interview between Davis and Massee on Sept. 5, Davis said he went into the home intent on having sex with Tibbitts but that he could get an erection because “she wouldn’t submit,” Massee said.
He also told her that when he left the home he took some nail clippers, a backpack and a bicycle, she said.
“I was like, I ain’t gonna get no sex, so I better get something for my trouble,” Massee said Davis told her, adding that he volunteered it was hard to think he does not deserve the death penalty.
Under cross examination by public defenders Norm Dawson and Meghan Cunningham, Massee was questioned repeatedly about Davis’ statements that he was remorseful for what he had done.
“He said he wanted to accept responsibility, correct?” Cunningham said, adding that Davis said, “God knows, I’m sorry.”
“I feel so sick with myself,” she quoted him as saying. “There’s not 1% of what I did that I can condone.”
Cunningham also said Davis indicated he was not planning to rape Tibbitts, and that the fight with her began because he thought she was reaching for a gun.
No gun was found in the house, Massee said.
Davis, whose 54th birthday was Tuesday, is charged with murder, burglary, intent to commit rape, arson and killing Tibbitts’ two dogs, who died from inhaling smoke from the fires.
A transient with a lengthy criminal history, Davis sat quietly between Dawson and Cunningham, wearing orange jail garb and occasionally lowering his face to look down at the defense table as Massee testified.
Members of the Tibbitts family filled two rows of seats behind Davis.
Tibbitts’ slaying in a quiet neighborhood that rarely sees such violence sparked widespread concern and anger, especially after authorities revealed he had been arrested months before on a car theft charge but was released without appearing before a judge.
Davis won release despite the fact that he had a record of two felony strikes, including a 2017 conviction in Sacramento for assault with a deadly weapon.
After his release on the car theft charge, he disappeared until his arrest in Tibbitts’ slaying.
Public defenders for Davis offered prosecutors a deal last year in which they would have had Davis enter a plea that would have resulted in a sentence of life without parole, but the District Attorney’s Office rejected the offer.
Instead, months later prosecutors filed court documents saying they intended to seek a death penalty prosecution.
Bowman scheduled a hearing for Dec. 15 for arguments on the arson charge Davis faces because it alleges he set the fire in an inhabited dwelling. Davis’ public defenders argue that an appellate ruling states the dwelling technically was not inhabited because Tibbitts was dead, although the judge noted he had no way of knowing when Tibbitts died or when the fires were set.