New Orleans woman gets 20-year sentence for stabbing lover to death

Plea averts life sentence

A 42-year-old woman diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic admitted Monday she stabbed her lover in the heart with a steak knife.

She said she did so in a haze of jealousy and rage.

Yolanda Davis pleaded guilty in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to manslaughter, a legal designation for killings committed in “sudden passion or heat of blood.”

She accepted a sentence of 20 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

Davis’ attorney, Martin Regan, said she had invited her girlfriend, Renee Johnson, 49, to stay with her at her New Orleans home.

Davis came home one day in late December 2010 and found Johnson there with two men.

Regan alleged Johnson had brought the men there to have sex with them in exchange for money.

Her arrest history in New Orleans included several arrests on prostitution charges, though the most recent was a 1994 guilty plea to a charge of solicitation of a crime against nature.

In a jealous fury, Regan said, Davis picked up a steak knife and attacked Johnson.

She drove the knife into Johnson’s chest, piercing her heart.

The victim lived for three days, and Davis was first booked with aggravated battery. The charge was raised to murder once Johnson died.

Davis, who wrote a long and detailed confession, was scheduled to be tried Monday on a charge of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence.

She was facing a lifetime in prison even if the jury had chosen instead to convict her of the lesser offense of manslaughter, typically punishable by up to 40 years in prison.

Davis is considered a four-time felon, and under the state’s habitual offender law she was subject to 80 years to life in prison if convicted of any new felony.

Her history includes convictions for theft, drugs and forgery. She had been out on bond on a theft charge when she killed Johnson, according to court records.

Her attorney and prosecutors reached an 11th-hour deal Monday morning.

Davis agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter, and prosecutors agreed to seek her sentencing only as a second-time felon.

“We felt like the evidence strongly indicated that this crime did in fact occur in the heat of passion,” said Christopher Bowman, spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office.

He noted that because Davis was sentenced under the state’s habitual offender law, she will be ineligible for parole. She will have to serve every day of her 20-year sentence.

Regan said he and his client both were pleased to accept the deal and avoid the near-inevitability of a lifetime in prison.

Prior to the killing, Regan said, his client had been diagnosed and medicated as a paranoid schizophrenic.

However, a panel of court-appointed doctors found her competent to stand trial.

Louisiana law defines legal insanity as the inability to tell right from wrong.

Regan said Davis’ detailed, written confession would have made it difficult to convince a jury to find her not guilty by reason of insanity, despite her documented mental illness.