By REID TUCKER
A nine-month-long investigation moved toward its conclusion with the arrest of Barry Trynell Davis Jr. on two charges of first degree murder.
Davis, 27, of DeFuniak Springs, was taken into custody by Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) deputies on Feb. 13, only a half-hour prior to a news conference held by Sheriff Mike Adkinson and State Attorney Bill Eddins announcing the arrest and the charges against Davis. According to the WCSO affidavit, Davis, already held in the Walton County Jail since December on unrelated charges, had been charged with the murders of John Hughes, 49, of Santa Rosa Beach, and Heidi Rhodes, 41, of Panama City Beach, last seen by friends and family in early May 2012. The ensuing missing persons investigation by the Sheriff’s Office turned into a 2,000-hour homicide investigation which, after extensive interviews with witnesses and research of financial transactions, implicated Davis with murdering the couple.
“This represents one of the most complex investigations ever undertaken by this agency,” Adkinson said. “It is the dedication of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s office that I believe will see this brought to a successful fruition in prosecution.”
The bodies of Hughes and Rhodes have not been recovered at this time, but Adkinson and Eddins said that will not stop the prosecution of Davis from going forward within the next 60 days. Eddins said the case will be presented to a grand jury in the next few weeks and, during that same timeframe, a committee will be convened to review the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the murders to determine whether or not it is appropriate to pursue the death penalty.
“As much as any case the sheriff and I have ever seen, this case is one that involves a multiple number of facts and circumstances and witnesses,” Eddins said. “It the weight of all the information that caused us to reach the conclusion we reached.”
For his part, Adkinson called Davis “a cold-blooded, premeditated, calculating killer.”
According to the affidavit, Tiffani Steward, Davis’ girlfriend, told investigators that Davis killed Hughes and Rhodes at Hughes’ Seagrove Beach home on May 7 after telling her of plans to kidnap Hughes and hold him for ransom. Steward said Davis beat and strangled the couple and drowned them in a bathtub before burning a tote bag she said contained their dismembered bodies in a pit behind Davis’ New Harmony residence a day or two later. Davis and Steward moved to another rental residence in Argyle sometime between May 15 and May 20.
Adkinson said the motive in the slayings was financial gain, as the affidavit shows Hughes had total assets of more than $415,000.
Davis allegedly loaded property from Hughes’ home in a U-Haul moving truck, selling some of the items online and some at a Destin pawn shop, while giving other items away as partial payment to individuals hired to assist with loading the truck. Several of these individuals, identified as Terry Guicej, Brittany Cassidy, Cecil Galloway, Randall Key, Donna Gee and Alphonzo Scott Gee, turned out to be key witnesses in the case. Other furnishings and personal property stolen from Hughes’ home were stored in a Freeport storage facility rented in Davis’ name while some he relocated to his Argyle home.
The affidavit goes on to document how Davis stole Hughes’ two automobiles – a Chevrolet Corvette, selling it the St. Cloud area for $15,000 cash, and a Cadillac Escalade, which witnesses reported seeing through June. Though WCSO personnel found the Escalade on Oct. 5 in DeFuniak Springs covered with a tarp, the back bench seat of the vehicle and several sections of carpet were removed and other areas of the interior had been bleached. Another witness in the case told investigators Davis said the back seat had been removed due to a body being previously stored in the vehicle.
There were also numerous debits from Hughes’ checking account by Davis since the disappearance of Hughes and Rhodes. Video surveillance confirmed that Davis used one of Hughes’ debit cards in DeFuniak Springs, Freeport, and St. Cloud, and three checks totaling more than $15,900 were written from Hughes’ bank account and deposited into Davis’ account between May 19 and June 9. The memo section of these checks listed the checks as payment for “moving, repair expenses, and property management,” all of which were the duties Davis told investigators and others he had been hired by Hughes to perform after Hughes “moved to Barbados,” supposedly due to drug debts.
Investigators on the case confirmed Hughes’ last outgoing call was made in Seagrove at noon on May 7 and that Davis’ last call to Hughes was made approximately four hours later, though a call was made to Hughes’ phone on May 19, with the call lasting four seconds. Davis’ and Steward’s phone locations show that they were in the Seagrove area in the late hours of May 7. Davis’ phone locations correspond with the dates and times of the U-Haul rentals, the moving of Hughes’ property to the storage facility and to Davis’ Argyle home, as well as the dates and times the three checks were deposited into Davis’ checking account.
The latest word from the WCSO is that Davis is being held without bond, and it is not known whether or not he has retained counsel at this time. Florida Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore has been assigned to prosecute the case alongside Josh Mitchell, one of the office’s primary investigators in the case. The WCSO investigators, led by Donna Armstrong, received high praise from Adkinson for their long hours putting together the case against Davis.
“It is not an easy thing to make a case a year later,” Adkinson said. “It is a testament to their dedication and their willingness to be unrelenting in the way they carried out their duties.”
As previously mentioned, the bodies of Hughes and Rhodes have not yet been found, though the search remains ongoing. Efforts have thus far been focused primarily on northern Walton County, though searches have also been conducted in Bay County, DeFuniak Springs and Santa Rosa Beach. A $20,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the bodies has been offered by the Hughes family.
Adkinson remained confident that the exhaustive efforts of his office and that of the State Attorney’s Office will ensure a successful prosecution. Adkinson said Davis will be brought to justice despite the lengths to which the man went to conceal the crimes.
“I think Davis is under the illusion that he’s smarter than the rest of us, and as such that he will beat all this at trial, but I will tell you he’s got another think coming,” Adkinson said. “He is not as smart as he thinks he is. He certainly has nowhere near the drive and dedication that the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office and State Attorney’s Office have put forward. I truly believe we will see a successful prosecution, hopefully culminating with a penalty appropriate to the heinousness of what he has done.
“I think justice will be served with a final verdict. This was a first step.”