Davis sentenced to life in prison
BERRYVILLE -- Evin Lee Davis was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for the October 2009 murder of 24-year-old Berryville native Christopher Helmlinger.
He was also sentenced to six years in prison for non-financial identity fraud because he reportedly killed the young man to obtain his identity.
Prior to the murder, Davis, 35, had been working alongside Helmlinger at the Tyson Foods plant in Green Forest under the name of Charles Hedstrom because he was wanted by Missouri authorities.
Helmlinger, described by his mother as "a wonderful Christian who made friends with anybody and everybody," was reported missing Oct. 4 and his body was discovered Oct. 18 in a shallow grave behind the Glen Echo Trailer Park where Davis and his wife Melissa Davis lived.
An investigation was launched that quickly led to the apprehension of Evin Davis, who had fled to Texas.
Melissa Davis, 37, was also arrested at that time, initially charged with capital murder by accessory. She had been working as a custodian at Berryville Schools. Both she and her husband were booked into the Carroll County Detention Center where they remained until Wednesday's court appearance. The couple reportedly have three children, two under the age of 18.
Melissa Davis was sentenced to 10 years' probation for hindering the investigation. She knew her husband was working and living under the name of her brother, Charles Hedstrom. She also failed to be truthful to investigators.
Her sentence was part of the plea agreement her husband agreed to accept.
Evin Davis admitted in court that he did kill Helmlinger with a single gunshot to the back of the head.
At one time, there was speculation the murder centered around money Helmlinger reportedly had in his possession, some $5,000.
Authorities say the money was found safe and secure in the young man's bank account except for funds spent on his car and auto insurance payments.
The life in prison sentence was a "satisfactory" resolution to a tragic murder that devastated the Helmlinger family, said Det. Robert Bartos with the Berryville Police Department. Bartos was the lead investigator on the case.
He said the plea agreement spared the family further anguish had the case proceeded to trial. He also noted that a death sentence would have dragged the case on indefinitely through the appeals process.
"It could drag out forever," he said. "This way, the family doesn't have to go through a drawn-out process. It's over and done. People have closure and they can move on."
There had been talk that the plea agreement was for life in prison -- without the possibility of parole. During court proceedings, the parole portion was not mentioned.
Bill James, appointed by the state to take the lead on the Evin Davis defense team, said that life in prison, according to Arkansas law, means just that, life in prison without parole -- unless the sentence is commuted by the governor. That won't happen in this case, he said, adding "he is going to die in prison."
Bartos extended a "thanks" to the community for its help in solving the crime.
"With the investigation, things fell into place," he said. "Fortunately things worked out as good as they could. The community came forward with information that helped us out."
Dave Muniz, chief of police for the city of Berryville, had high praise for his officers.
"This plea agreement means quite a bit," he said. "It shows the system works, justice was served and this department is capable of conducting a complex investigation.
"Overall, it was outstanding police work. It was a department-wide effort with Det. Bartos and Officer Daniel Crawford taking the lead.
"It shows the community we have a great team in place, and our hiring standards are a reflection of that process."
Muniz went on to praise the prosecutor's office, especially Devon Clossure, "who was very helpful," he said.
He also extended his thanks to the community.
"Our department has always been based on the belief we are only as effective as the public allows," said Muniz. "During this investigation, information from the public was instrumental in solving the case. It was information in leads that Bartos and Crawford followed up that led to the arrests.
"We have a great team the community can be proud of," he added. "With this resolution, I'm happy for our community, our department, and for Chris Helmlinger's family."