Madalyn Wheatley remembers the phone call that woke her early in the morning six years ago.
“I was supposed to substitute teach that day,” she said of May 3, 2007. “And, instead, I woke up at 5 o'clock in the morning on Friday, hearing the worst news that I think I've ever heard in my life.”
Wheatley's mother, 55-year-old Dana Davis, had been murdered.
Davis' other daughter, Christina Mavris, was accused of stabbing her mother, a Schofield Middle School teacher, multiple times the night before.
After the slaying, Mavris allegedly set fire to her mother's Crosland Park home and called 911 to report the fire. Aiken Public Safety officers responded to the home and later charged Mavris with murder.
After six years, no trial date
While the case was pending, Mavris was held in the Aiken County detention center without bond. In 2010, she was deemed incompetent to stand trial, but experts said at the time that she was likely to become competent with treatment.
According to Wheatley, Mavris has a long history of schizophrenia and was hospitalized through the S.C. Department of Mental Health.
Because of conflicting opinions in the first competency hearing, a second hearing was scheduled. A circuit court judge ruled in November 2010 that testimony from forensic experts demonstrated that efforts to restore Mavris' competency were unsuccessful and that Mavris was not likely to become competent in the foreseeable future.
The charges were dismissed, with the option to reopen the case. After a mental evaluation in which Mavris was deemed competent, she was rearrested in April 2012 and charged with murder. A prosecutor has the right to charge a person previously deemed incompetent and ordered to receive mental health treatment if he or she later reaches a functional level of competency and is released.
The case is being prosecuted by Donnie Myers, solicitor for the 11th Circuit. When Second Judicial Circuit Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr. was in private practice, he consulted with Mavris' family. Mavris was hospitalized for nearly a year and a half in the state Department of Mental Health before being released to police custody last April. She remains in the Aiken County detention center.
'Everything about her is my favorite memory'
In the meantime, Wheatley holds on to memories of her mother, particularly when something happens with the case, or, like today, the anniversary rolls around.
Davis taught English at Schofield. Wheatley described her as a “Rhett Butler” southerner with “grace under fire.”
“When she went to work, she went to work, and she never let anything personal get in,” she said. “I definitely think she had a big part in how to get a lesson across where the kids are gonna enjoy it, and they're gonna be interested.”
They loved laughing and cutting up together.
“There's not one particular favorite memory – she is my favorite memory. Everything about her is my favorite memory,” Wheatley said. “We could really get into it with Cher's 'Believe.' That was one of her favorites. We would just dance in the middle of the living room.”
'My sister was really sick'
Mavris reportedly had a history of hospitalizations for years due to schizophrenia, Wheatley said.
“My sister was really sick,” she said, adding that things got out of hand particularly in the year leading up to her mother's death. “Mom was locking her door of her bedroom at night.”
Wheatley said she's spoken minimally with reporters about the case since her mother's murder, but has decided to speak up since the issue of mental health care has been brought to the forefront of conversation in America.
“You've got people in Newtown who do not have children right now because someone with a mental illness decided to grab a gun, shoot his mother and go on a violent rampage,” she said. “The mental illness and health problem has been something in the last couple of years that's really starting to be in people's faces because of the kinds of crimes that are committed. The people that have these problems cannot get the help they need either a. because they can't afford it, or b. because they refuse medication and go into the criminal justice system.”
Mavris “fell through the cracks” of the system, Wheatley said.
“Mom did not have enough money to keep her where she was when she turned 18,” she said. “It costs a lot of money to take care of people in mental health.”
'Medication doesn't fix it'
Wheatley said an overhaul is necessary to the country's mental health care system – and to a judicial system that places mentally ill people into prisons without access to proper care and therapy.
“The difference between Christina in a mental facility and in a jail, it's like talking about two different people,” Wheatley said. “I watched my sister get together, and then when she got rearrested, I watched her fall again.”
She said parents need more resources about mental health available to them, and that they need to have more conversations about it, including the signs and symptoms.
“Medication doesn't fix it. It alleviates some of the symptoms, but it doesn't cure it,” Wheatley said.
Wheatley said if her sister does go to prison, she may go to a forensic prison but will eventually be placed into the general population.
She and her mother had planned to write a book about their family's experiences titled, “Regarding Christina,” in hopes of helping other families through similar situations.
“I asked her, 'What do you think the ending is gonna be?'” Wheatley recalled. “She said, 'I hope it's a good one.' I don't think either of us expected that Christina was not gonna come out of this OK. We both hoped that she would get better, but those things you can't control.”
• Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.