State court upholds sexual assault conviction of former bar operator

Davis claimed jury prejudiced by mention of unsolved murder case
Tim Ryan

A former Shawano bar operator sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for child sexual assault lost a bid for a new trial Tuesday after his conviction was upheld by a state appeals court.
Darwin R. Davis, 51, was found guilty after a weeklong jury trial in November 2015 of having sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl in the basement of a Shawano tavern he once operated and on multiple occasions at his home in 2012.
Davis maintained he had ineffective counsel in the case, primarily because his attorney did not object when the prosecution questioned him about his connection to a Shawano woman who went missing in 2013.
Heather Szekeres, 32, disappeared in June 2013 while the charges against Davis were still pending. She had last been seen at the Final Lap Tavern, the bar Davis operated. She had been expected to testify about Davis’ relationship with the girl and had already given authorities a statement to that effect.
Remains found nearly a year later outside the city were finally identified as Szekeres in April 2015.
The case remains under investigation by the state Division of Criminal Investigations, which continues to decline any comment.
The District III Court of Appeals said in its ruling filed Tuesday that Davis failed to demonstrate prejudice on any of the ineffective counsel claims, and that each of the due process claims was either forfeited or lacks merit.
Also, the court wrote, “there is no reasonable probability of a different result based on alleged errors by counsel in a criminal trial when the conviction was otherwise supported by overwhelming evidence.”
That evidence included DNA found on a couch in the tavern basement belonging to Davis and the 15-year-old girl, as well as cell phone messages sent between the two.
Davis was sentenced in April 2016 to 20 years on four counts of child sex assault and 1½ years on two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child for trying to get his two children, who were 13 and 11 at the time, to lie to authorities about his relationship with the girl.
He was also sentenced on a number of other counts, including felony counts of possession of marijuana and bail jumping and misdemeanor counts of possessing drug paraphernalia and resisting or obstructing an officer. Those sentences were imposed concurrently with the others.
Davis was also ordered to serve 10 years of extended supervision after his prison sentence.
One of the arguments Davis made for lack of effective counsel was his attorney’s failure to challenge Assistant District Attorney Catharine White when she suggested during cross-examination that Davis had been the last person to see Szekeres alive.
Davis denied that, but maintained it prejudiced the jury against him.
The appeals court noted in its ruling that Davis himself raised the Szekeres case during cross-examination, when he suggested her disappearance might be a reason why Szekeres’ mother testified against him at his trial.
Davis is currently housed at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution.
Davis was previously convicted of second-degree sexual assault of a child in Langlade County in 1994 and was sentenced to five years in prison.