Supreme Court declines to review case of New Orleans cop who had woman killed for filing complaint
On Monday, the US Supreme Court declined to review the capital case of Len Davis, a 57-year-old former New Orleans police officer convicted in the 1994 murder of a woman who filed a civil rights complaint against him.
Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for federal civil rights offenses in 1996 relating to the fatal shooting of Kim Marie Groves in 1994 after Groves filed an IAD complaint against Davis after her nephew was pistol-whipped. The former officer has maintained his innocence, claiming that several incriminating conversations revealed in federal testimony were in reference to planting drugs on the woman in an effort to get her arrested.
In October of 1994, Davis and Ofc. Sammie Williams were canvassing a neighborhood for Dwayne LeBlanc, a twin suspected of shooting a police officer. The men stopped a vehicle driven by twins, but found out that the men weren’t LeBlancs. They were instead Nathan and Nathaniel Norwood, Groves’ nephews.
Groves, who was nearby, approached the scene and began arguing with Davis and his fellow officer, demanding to know why the men had stopped her nephews. According to testimony for the government later given by Williams, Davis and Groves argued for a bit before the cop told her to “go up the street and mind her own business.” Groves and the officers both left the scene without incident.
The next day, the officers continued looking for LeBlanc. They approached a man standing on a street corner who, upon seeing them, began to run. Williams began to follow him on foot and Davis tailed the duo in his patrol car. When the men caught up, Williams struck the man in the back of the head with his gun, causing his head to slam into a porch railing.
After the man was handcuffed, he was revealed to be Nathan Norwood — the same mistaken identity from the previous day. Once again, an angry Kim Groves showed up, demanding to know what the officers had done to her nephew. She later filed a complaint against Davis, not Williams as she didn’t directly witness who hit her nephew, with writing like “Len Davis beat him up.”
The morning after Davis had learned of the complaint, he began his shift with Williams noticeably angry. Davis said he was tired of internal affairs and was upset about the numerous complaints levied against him, which he said were “usually unfounded.” He was specifically angry at Groves for “getting into his business” and “lying on him” regarding the incident with her nephew.
Around 5:00 that evening, an occurrence of pure chance came upon the officers — they ran into Kim Groves once again. She was in the backseat of a car driven by her nephews and their mother that pulled up next to their patrol car at a red light. Groves immediately became upset and began pointing at the officers.
“That’s them! That’s them!” she said.
Davis glanced back at her, returning the finger. “I see you too,” he said, before pulling off as the light turned green. He then became “real angry” and began to discuss killing Groves.
“I could get Paul to do that whore and we could handle the 30,” he said. A “30” in this context is a police report — Davis was planning to exculpate Paul Hardy, a local drug dealer who often did favors for him that he planned to tap for the killing. He then used his beeper to page Hardy.
Later that night, Hardy, Damon Causey, and two other men arrived at the Fifth District Station. Davis and the men perused police photographs of several grizzly murder scenes, and Davis gave Hardy and Causey a tour of Groves’ neighborhood, leaving his cell phone with the men.
At around 7:28 p.m., Williams and Davis drove back into the Lower Ninth Ward — this time looking for Groves, who wasn’t out. They then drove to the Florida housing project, where Paul Hardy lived. They found him armed with a 9mm gun and swooped him into the backseat of the patrol vehicle.
The men returned to Groves’ neighborhood with Hardy to look for her again and came up empty. They dropped Hardy back off and returned to their patrol.
For around an hour and a half, the men went on patrol and did their duties as law enforcement officers. During that time, Davis was becoming increasingly angry because Hardy hadn’t called him.
They swung back around the Lower Ninth Ward and spotted Groves standing on a street corner. Davis beeped Hardy and gave him a full description of Groves, all the way down to what she was wearing, when he called. Davis told Hardy that Groves was standing on Alabo Street, “right there in the middle of the street just talking.”
Around 11 p.m. that night, Hardy approached Groves and shot her point-blank in the head, “execution style”, killing her instantly. Davis heard the death report over his police radio and allegedly began to jump up and down in celebration
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, rock, rock-a-bye,” Davis exclaimed, reciting a line from a film where an assassin says a similar line whenever she kills someone. At 11:20, he got on the phone and called Williams.
“Signal 30, NAT,” he said, reciting a police code for “necessary action taken” before hanging up.
Unbeknownst to Davis at the time, he was being scrutinized as a part of FBI investigation Operation Shattered Shield, an undercover probe looking into drug sales and corruption within the New Orleans Police Department. After his death sentence for the civil rights charges, he received a life term for drug conspiracy as a part of the Shattered Shield indictment.
Davis’ partner, Williams, was never prosecuted for his role in the death of Groves in exchange for government witness testimony. He was sentenced to five years for drug conspiracy as a result of the Shattered Shield probe. Hardy and Causey are both serving life sentences for their roles in Groves’ death.
Following a resentencing trial after his death sentences were vacated and one of his charges was tossed because the government failed to prove that the murder could’ve hindered a future investigation, Davis was again sentenced to death.
Attorneys for Davis had asked the court to review his case in March after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion to vacate his death sentence again. The court denied Davis’ request for a Certificate of Appealability without an evidentiary hearing.
Davis’ team had challenged his 1996 civil rights convictions with claims including juror misconduct, ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and racial bias. They argued that the former officer’s lawyers at the time failed to properly investigate or create a consistent defense to charges of civil rights deprivation under the color of law.
Davis’ new legal team said that his original defense failed to present evidence that he ordered the killing of Kim Groves due to a “highly personal” dispute that wasn’t connected to the open civil rights complaint against him. Prosecutors said Davis targeted Groves because she complained against him in an official capacity, but his attorneys say Davis and the woman had years of “friction and hatred” between each other in a neighborhood with a tense relationship with local police. They argued that Davis’ actions in having Groves killed was heat-of-the-moment anger after she began pointing at him at the red light.
Federal prosecutors in a reply brief filed following Davis’ petition called the claims “unwarranted” and lacking of merit. They said the lack of an evidentiary hearing didn’t conflict with the court’s decision or previous appellate decisions, citing several prior certiorari petitions including that of executed inmate Keith Nelson in an effort to persuade the court to stick with precedent.
The high court ultimately agreed, denying Davis’ petition on Monday without comment as the court returned for its first in-person oral arguments since the pandemic began.
Davis is currently housed on federal death row at USP Terre Haute in Indiana. The Department of Justice has ordered a moratorium on executions pending a review of procedure and practice, sparing Davis from death by lethal injection for the near future. He will die behind bars either way.