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Wealth, influence, and security had become hallmarks of the Atlanta community of Buckhead, Georgia in the mid-1990s. But on December 11, 1996, the elite enclave was rocked by a grisly homicide firefighters discovered amid the ashes and rubble of a ferocious residential fire.
Suspicion was raised because the victim was found on his back in the kitchen, Rick Chambers, Atlanta PD Homicide Investigator told “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Sundays at 8/7c on Oxygen. Victims not found in bed are typically located face down because they were trying to crawl. A handgun was also eventually found near his body.
Police identified the victim as David Coffin, 41, a successful entrepreneur who lived alone. Coffin, who friends described as down-to-earth and great fun, was the heir to his family’s $23 million fortune amassed from aerospace and automotive industries.
The medical examiner determined that Coffin had died from a gunshot to his head.
As investigators worked the scene, a report of another fire just over a mile away came in. The small house fire had been extinguished by the firefighters and the homeowner Scott Davis. Davis told police he was in bed reading when his dog’s barking prompted him to look out his window. He saw the back of his house ablaze, grabbed a shotgun and ran out.
Davis, a member of a wealthy, well-connected family, claimed he was shot at and that he saw a man hopping a fence, so he shot his firearm five times. He also told authorities that when he’d come home from the gym earlier in the day, an intruder ambushed him and sprayed him with mace. Armed with a pistol, the man allegedly said to stay away from Megan Lee, who, detectives learned, was Davis’ estranged wife. She was currently involved with Coffin.
Davis had insisted that Megan not get intimate with Coffin. But it was too late. Knowing that she was having sex with another man was a turning point.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” according to Monica Pearson, a retired Atlanta TV journalist. He started calling, writing letters, and begging her to come back. “It was as if she was the only thing in life for him,” she said.
Davis filed a report, noting that the man had stolen clothes and a gas can.
Megan, meanwhile, told investigators that a bizarre incident occurred on December 6 when Coffin returned home after spending time with her at her condo.
Coffin’s house had been burgled. Stolen items included computer equipment, watches, a 1988 Porsche, and a 9mm handgun, the same kind found near Coffin’s body following the fire. The car was later found torched.
Davis was brought in for questioning and, investigators said, was calm and collected. He recounted his story of the intruder jumping over the fence in his yard. He said he saw a flash indicating to him that he’d been shot at. That’s when Davis fired six times, he claimed.
But Davis eventually admitted he and his estranged wife were going through a rocky period. He also mentioned that Coffin had been shot, a fact that had not been released.
Pressed by detectives about his knowledge of Coffin being shot, Davis said he’d heard it from Megan or another mutual friend.
At Davis’ home, police found five shotgun shells but no shell casing to support his claim of being shot at. Plus, neighbors who’d heard the commotion told police they heard five, not six, gunshots.
Investigators were convinced Davis was the killer, and he was arrested and charged with Coffin’s murder. The family of the victim and suspect, each powerful and with deep financial resources, squared off for a battle in court.
District Attorney Paul Howard, however, decided there wasn’t enough evidence to move the case forward.
Years passed. Megan started a new life in Australia, and Davis moved to California, where he was involved with politics. But in Atlanta D.A. Howard had a new resolve. He had set up a cold case task force, and in 2004, Coffin’s case was looked at with fresh eyes.
“Assistant District Attorney Sheila Ross was given the Coffin case,” explained Pearson. She and her team painstakingly scoured documents and reinterviewed witnesses, beginning with Megan. They learned that Megan kept letters and voice messages from her estranged husband, which became valuable evidence.
As investigators reexamined evidence from the first investigation, they discovered Davis had hired a private investigator to trail Megan. Davis also inquired about Coffin’s home address the day before it was robbed.
Between his actions and his earlier revelation about Coffin being shot made Davis the best witness against him, investigators said.
Still, the case against Davis was circumstantial.
“Circumstantial evidence isn’t necessarily worse than direct evidence,” she said. “It’s just different than direct evidence. But it takes a lot longer to connect the dots and put it together.”
Despite having no new physical evidence, prosecutors determined that their case was as good as it could be. They presented the case to the Fulton County grand jury on November 23, 2005.
Davis was arrested in Palo Alto, California and was brought back to Atlanta. His family put up $1 million bail, allowing him to be a free man until the trial.
At the court proceedings, Megan was a key witness. She testified that Davis would call her as many as 25 times a day. On saved voicemail recordings he was heard pleading with her to take him back.
Defense attorneys however, pointed out that the D.A. had no physical evidence in their case. The defendant’s father, Dr. Dave Davis, a prominent Atlanta forensic psychiatrist and frequent expert witness at trials, also took the stand. He claimed that his son was with him the night Coffin’s house was ransacked.
Dr. Davis acknowledged on the stand that it was the first time in nearly a decade he had told anyone in law enforcement that his son was at his house that night.
“Dr. Davis lost all of his credibility in this case,” said Pearson.
To learn more about the case, watch “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Sundays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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