Texas veterinarian Wendi Mae Davidson ended almost two years of uncertainty for a Maine family when she pleaded no contest Monday to charges she murdered her husband, Lee native Michael Leslie Severance, in January 2005.
Once Judge Tom Gossett of the 51st Judicial District Court of Tom Green County in San Angelo, Texas, rejected her motion to have the evidence against her dismissed on a technicality, Davidson took a deal that will compel her to serve a total 25-year sentence on the murder charge and two concurrent 10-year sentences on two evidence-tampering charges, court officials said Monday.
Davidson, 28, did not go quietly. As a court employee began to administer the oath to verify the accuracy of Davidson’s signature on the plea agreement, she collapsed in the courtroom. She lay on the floor sobbing for several minutes while attorney Fred C. Brigman III tried to console her during a recess after Gossett’s ruling.
Her mother, Judi Davidson, showed little emotion, crying once, as her daughter was sentenced. Her father, Lloyd Davidson, sat stone-faced.
Wendi Mae Davidson, who faced a sentence of nine to 99 years if found guilty in trial, will be eligible for parole in about 13 years, court officials said.
Severance’s father, Leslie Severance of Lee, felt neither joy nor satisfaction with Davidson’s plea deal.
“We all kind of realized that this isn’t going to bring Mike back. We’re kind of glad it’s over, this part of it,” Severance said in a telephone interview Monday from San Angelo.
“Surprisingly, it doesn’t do anything for the pain,” Severance added.
Severance would have liked to have heard his daughter-in-law admit her crime, he said, but she denied him this by pleading no contest, which means Davidson accepted that she would be found guilty without admitting to the crime.
“I think we got robbed again. She is in jail right now because she is guilty of murder, but she has never admitted to anything. I guess we didn’t get a whole lot of answers we were hoping we would get,” Severance said.
Coming on the day jury selection in her trial was due to start, Davidson’s plea might have been the last of a series of evasions and outright lies that began on Jan. 16, 2005.
That’s when the 28-year-old told police in San Angelo that Severance, an Air Force staff sergeant serving in Abilene, had been drinking heavily and had gone missing, perhaps to Canada, because he did not want to be posted overseas.
None of that was true.
The next day, after telling his frantic Maine relatives that she didn’t know where he was, Davidson filed for divorce and a restraining order against Severance.
“I really wish I knew where Mike was so everyone would be at peace, but I don’t know and I realize that I may never know what happened,” Davidson wrote to Robert Shane Zubaty of south Florida, a friend of Severance’s, in a letter that arrived March 4, 2005. Zubaty later shared the letter’s contents with the media.
“I have come to the logical conclusion that Mike left everything to start a new life. The other possibility is that the military may have something to do with his disappearance … ,” Davidson was quoted as writing.
A day after the letter arrived in Florida, Davidson was charged with one count of evidence tampering because she told her brother Marshall Davidson that she found Michael dead at home Jan. 15 and dumped his body in a pond owned by family friend and mentor Terrell Sheen.
She told her brother that she feared someone else in her family had killed her husband because her family hated him.
Law enforcement officials who found the body the next day called the disposal an act of icy precision – 41 postmortem stab wounds and slashes to a poisoned 155-pound body that was weighted with 145 pounds of car parts to keep it from floating to the surface.
Police claimed Davidson tried to destroy veterinary records regarding drugs used to euthanize animals. They suspected the drugs were tied to the murder. Within three days of the arrest, Davidson dropped the divorce claim and also, police said, began using the Internet to research how bodies decompose in water.
The murder and additional tampering charge followed.
Prosecutors told Leslie Severance that a plea bargain was possible, and he had no choice, he said.
The deal leaves an avenue for an appeal should Davidson’s attorneys file one in Texas 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. That court could overturn Gossett’s decision admitting police evidence and call for a new trial with all or most of the prosecution’s evidence disqualified, her attorneys said.
“There are real issues as to who committed the murder,” her attorney Melvin Gray said.
Yet Davidson’s lies were in the end what snared her, said Thomas Goff, a San Angelo attorney who is representing the Severance family in its attempt to gain full custody of the Davidson-Severance child, Shane Michael Severance.
By filing a missing person’s report, Davidson opened the door to Air Force investigators placing a tracking device in her car that led to the body and her arrest, Goff said.
“The Air Force investigators are the real heroes here,” Goff said.
The San Angelo Standard Times and Associated Press contributed to this report.