Howard O. Davis, 94, jury foreman in '77 Mandel trial

December 11, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Howard O. Davis, the jury foreman in Gov. Marvin Mandel's 1977 federal corruption trial and a retired Cumberland plant engineer, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 3 at his daughter's home in Bellwood, Pa. He was 94.

Born in Frostburg, he attended elementary school but was forced to drop out at age 12 and work in construction and other jobs to help support his widowed mother, four brothers and two sisters.

He was a self-trained pipefitter for Cumberland's Hoechst Celanese Corp., which made parachute fabric and other synthetic fabrics. He assisted in setting up plants in Venezuela and Canada, where he lived for several years on special assignment. He retired 28 years ago from PPG Industries, also in Cumberland.

"He was a much-desired plant engineer," said his daughter, Sandi A. Allen of Bellwood. "His employers fought for him. He was the kind of man who treated his co-workers equally."

Family members said that in 1977 Mr. Davis received a summons in the mail to appear in Baltimore for federal court jury service. After his death, they found the letter preserved and folded in a book in his closet.

"He was a man of meticulous habits," his daughter said. "He wrote down every day the temperature, the weather and who called him. He recorded what day he paid what bills and what day he did the laundry."

The federal case Mr. Davis was called to weigh hinged on charges that Mr. Mandel used his power to push legislation that benefited five friends, who were said to have given him bribes. A first trial, in 1976, ended in a mistrial when jurors, sequestered in a hotel, heard on television that someone had tried to bribe a jury member.

Mr. Davis, who was the jury foreman for the second trial, was heavily guarded by federal marshals throughout the duration of the proceeding from June 1 to Aug. 23, 1977. That trial ended with the conviction of all six defendants on mail fraud and racketeering charges.

In 1981, President Ronald W. Reagan commuted the sentence of Mr. Mandel and W. Dale Hess, one of the co-defendants. In 1987, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin ordered the verdicts and sentences vacated for Mr. Mandel and his five co-defendants.

In its account of the trial, The Sun reported of its outcome: "Mr. Graham, the chief deputy clerk, asked the jury, `Have you agreed upon your verdicts?'

"`We have,' replied Howard O. Davis, the jury foreman, who then handed over six sheets of paper, one for each defendant."

Mr. Davis was sequestered at a Woodlawn motel for the duration of the trial and traveled to and from the courtroom in a school bus with darkened windows. The jury was composed of seven men and five women.

"He came home with his hair down to his neck," his daughter said. "He looked like an old man but was proud of his accomplishment."

After the trial was over, Mr. Davis spoke little of it, family members said. "We even found his notes he had taken. He wrote down who voted, how many voted for and how many voted against. Given the fact he didn't have much education, he was an amazing man."

"He would never volunteer anything about it. He didn't brag about it," said his nephew Larry Patterson of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Mr. Davis was a member of Frostburg United Methodist Church.

A Republican and Mason, he was a member of Lonaconing Republican Club, Mountain Lodge, the Scottish Rite of Cumberland and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.

Services were held Tuesday in Frostburg.

Survivors, in addition to his daughter and nephew, include seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His wife of 69 years, Blanche O. Miller, died in 2000. A son, Howard E. Davis, died in 1996.

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