MAYS LANDING, N.J. (AP) — Just before being sentenced to prison for at least 21 ½ years, a tearful Robert Davies apologized Thursday for fatally stabbing a vacationing British tourist outside a Jersey shore bar, then said he’s glad he didn’t end up dead like his victim.
Davies, 49, of North Wildwood, was convicted of reckless manslaughter and weapons offenses stemming from the August 2007 stabbing of Lavern Paul Ritch of Penarth, Wales. Davies says he acted in self-defense, thinking Ritch was part of a group out to hurt or kill him.
Turning in the courtroom to look at Ritch’s brother and best friend, who refused to look back at him, the handcuffed Davies cried as he repeatedly said he was sorry for what happened.
“Mr. Ritch, there aren’t words that can properly express to you how sorry I am for killing your brother,” Davies said. “That I could strike a blow with such intensity and such horrifying consequences for your entire family and when it’s brought you such pain and grief is a shame from which I shall never escape. I can’t ask for your forgiveness because I cannot forgive myself.”
Yet in the next breath, Davies cited two other cases of men killed in altercations outside bars, implying they did not do enough to defend themselves “and they were carried by six,” referring to their caskets at their funerals.
Davies said he can handle a long prison sentence, knowing his family is alive.
“If I have to go to jail, as long as my people are safe, I can handle it,” he said. “As long as I don’t have to go through what they went through, I’ll live with it,” he said, referring to the grief and mourning Ritch’s family is experiencing.
Judge Bernard DeLury Jr. said the case stemmed from Davies’ “racial and ethnic animus,” calling the defendant “a latter-day know-nothing.”
The fatal sequence of events started with a confrontation between Davies and a Mexican national in this country illegally named Mario Chavez inside the men’s room of a bar in Margate, a Jersey shore resort town just outside Atlantic City.
During the trial, the prosecution said Chavez was angered when Davies confronted him, hurling an anti-Mexican insult at him. Shortly afterward, Assistant Prosecutor William Merz said, Chavez found Davies outside the bar, ran up to him and punched him in the face, then fled, causing Davies to run after him.
The chase wound its way through the streets of Margate, past a different nightspot where Ritch and a few friends were waiting for a taxi back to their hotel room in an Atlantic City casino. Prosecutors and witnesses said Ritch joined the chase, intending to help Davies.
It is here that the two sides’ stories diverged. Witnesses, including several Mexican nationals who had been with Chavez inside the bar, told police they saw Ritch run up to Davies and quickly draw back, with both hands raised high in the air, saying, “Look, I’m just trying to help you!” only to be stabbed in the chest.
Davies told the jury the 37-year-old Ritch ran up to him without a sound as a group of at least a half-dozen people were chasing after him. Davies said he lashed out at Ritch, stabbing him in the heart before running away.
He said he acted lawfully to defend himself, fearing his life was in danger. It was a stance he repeated Thursday in trying to explain what he did.
“I didn’t know; I didn’t know,” he said, speaking haltingly, his words punctuated by long, agonized silences. “I wasn’t trying to kill anybody. I wasn’t even trying to kill one of the Mexicans. I just wanted to stop the assault right then and there, and I panicked.”
The judge flatly rejected Davies’ assertions.
“The defendant tried to portray himself as the victim,” DeLury said. “He tried to justify his behavior. There was no mob of angry illegal Mexicans. There was no one to blame for the death of Lavern Ritch other than Robert Davies.”
DeLury said Davies started the chain of events that led to Ritch’s death out of ignorance and bias during the men’s room confrontation.
“The defendant’s bilious rant lit the fuse on the explosive events that followed,” he said.
The prosecutor asked the judge to impose a harsher sentence than would normally be called for under New Jersey law, noting Davies’ long criminal record, which includes previous convictions for threats, assault, theft, drug possession, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal sexual contact and other offenses in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.
“Judge, this man is dangerous, and he’s dangerous with a capital ‘D”,” Merz said. He cited a card Davies would carry with him that read, “To the next police officer who harasses me or violates my rights, I’m sworn to hurt your family.”
DeLury agreed with the request, saying society needs to be protected from Davies for as long as possible.
“There is more than a risk this defendant will commit another offense; it is a certainty,” DeLury said. “The defendant’s criminality has been escalating and increasing at an alarming rate. It’s time to pull the emergency brake on this career recidivist.”
The judge sentenced Davies to 20 years in prison on the manslaughter charge—twice the sentence that had been expected. He also tacked on an additional 18 months for a weapons charge. A term for a second weapons offense will be served at the same time as the other offenses.
Under New Jersey’s No Early Release Act, Davies must serve about 17 years before becoming eligible for parole. He has been given credit for the 3 ½ years he has spent behind bars since his arrest shortly after the killing.
Ritch appeared as a contestant in the British adaptation of “American Gladiators” in 1998.
A swimming and fitness instructor in Cardiff, Wales, he was listed in a 2002 poll of Britain’s 50 most eligible bachelors by Company magazine and was named the 12th most eligible man in Wales that same year in a local newspaper.
The BBC described him in 2007 as “a well-known clubber on the London and Cardiff scenes.”
His brother, Anthony Ritch, said the family remains devastated by the killing.
“How could such a vital, passionate, gentle person be taken away from us in such a vile and horrific way?” he asked. “Words can’t explain the pain we feel on a daily basis. He should have been experiencing the rest of his life.”
Anthony Ritch told of the anguish he felt in 2007 when he had to tell his three young sons he was flying to America to retrieve gifts their uncle Lavern had bought them.
“I said I was going to collect the presents he had bought them because he had gone to heaven and would not be bringing them himself,” he said. “In reality, I was going to collect his body.”
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