Bulloch County Superior Court Judge William Woodrum denied bond Tuesday for a man accused of killing an Ogeechee Technical College student with whom he was friends in high school.
Daryl Anthony Priestley, 18, is charged with homicide in the strangulation death of 19-year-old Brandie Danielle Davis Dec. 7. Davis' body was found in her Campus Crossings apartment Dec. 8 after she failed to arrive in her hometown, McDonough, where her mother was having open-heart surgery.
Priestley appeared before Woodrum Tuesday morning for a preliminary hearing. The case was bound over to grand jury, which is expected to convene in early February.
Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney put only one witness on the stand for the hearing — Statesboro Police Det. Sgt. James Winskey, who handled the murder investigation.
As Winskey took the stand, the courtroom benches were filled on one side with about 25 of Davis' friends and family members. On the other side were five people related to Priestley, including his mother.
As Winskey was first questioned by Jarriel, then by Priestley's court-appointed attorney Renata Newbill-Jallows, he revealed details of the crime scene and investigation.
Winskey was called to the scene after apartment staff discovered Davis' body. The staff was asked to do a welfare check because she never arrived at the hospital for her mother's surgery and no one could contact her, he said.
Davis' body was found covered up with clothing, topped with an office type chair and a clothes basket, he said. She was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS technicians.
Investigators identified Davis via her driver's license found in her purse, he said.
Further examination showed Davis had a boom box and computer cord wrapped around her neck, a mechanical pencil shoved through the roof of her mouth, and was covered in bruises, abrasions and scratches, he said.
Once friends and neighbors heard through the grapevine about Davis' death, they began arriving at the scene, Winskey said. Two young men who had been at her apartment earlier Dec. 7, along with Priestley, arrived and let investigators know they had been there, he said. They gave Winskey Priestley's contact information, and Priestley agreed to be questioned.
"We did about 17-18 interviews, including Priestley, that night," Winskey said.
District Attorney Investigator Tom Woodrum later obtained Davis' phone records, but that night detectives realized the victim's cell phone and keys were missing from the scene. Records showed Davis was speaking to her fiance Dustin Willett when Priestly arrived at her home around 11:09, Winskey said.
Willett told police he was talking to Davis when she said someone knocked at her door. She told him it was her friend Molly, but it was in fact Priestley at the door, he said. Daavis dialed Priestly's phone twice just seconds after hanging up with Willett, "but Daryl was in the room" when she did so, Winskey said.
During interviews, Priestley gave conflicting written and oral statements, which were videotaped and audiotaped, Winskey said. "There were inconsistencies about where he was that night."
When questioned about those inconsistencies during an interview in Henry County, where Priestley had gone home to his family residence in McDonough, he finally admitted to Winskey he was responsible for her death, he said.
In one statement, Priestly said he stopped by Davis' apartment to get his cell phone, which he said he left there. He told police Davis tripped and fell, choking on the mechanical pencil, and that he "saw her take her last breath," Winskey told the court. "He said he covered her face and ran home to cry."
Electronic records show someone locked Davis' door at 11:33 p.m. Dec. 7, and it had not been opened again until apartment security opened it, he said. Priestley told investigators he locked the door when he left "out of respect," and said he wrapped the computer and boom box cords around her neck to make it appear her death was caused by someone else, Winskey said.
"It's my opinion he locked the door to keep her from being found," he said.
While police said in earlier reports Davis did not appear to have been sexually assaulted, Winskey said her shirt was lifted above her chest, exposing her breasts, when she was found. He said he removed dark hairs from her body and swabbed her body for DNA.
Davis suffered extensive injuries including bruising, scratches, and what appeared to be "carpet burn" on her face, throat, ears and scalp, he said. Preliminary autopsy reports listed the cause of death as being strangulation, and he said Davis' neck showed signs of both manual and ligature strangulation.
While Priestley stated in reports Davis died from being "choked" by the pencil, the severe injury made by the pencil piercing the roof of her mouth was not a fatal injury, Winskey said.
After Woodrum bound the case over to grand jury, Newbill-Jallows asked for bond to be set. "He does not have any prior history" of crime and has been cooperative with authorities, she said.
But Jarriel asked that bond be denied, citing "concern about contact with witnesses" and the violence of the crime.
Woodrum denied bond on that basis.
Throughout the hearing, Priestley showed no reaction, including when Jarriel placed graphic crime scene photos on a computer screen for the judge and others to view.