Joshua Davis, 37, of Winter Haven was found guilty of shooting and killing two Polk State College students and injuring a third. He will be sentenced Dec. 9 by Judge Harb.

JURY VERDICT: Man guilty of killing two students, shooting another

Joshua Davis stood in front of his third victim, the gun facing his forehead at point-blank range.

Joshua Davis, 37, of Winter Haven was found guilty of shooting and killing two Polk State College students and injuring a third. He will be sentenced Dec. 9 by Judge Harb.

Davis had just shot and killed Polk State College students Joe Palacios and Christian Rodriguez, both 19, before turning the gun on Esteban Zavala, who feared he would be shot next.

“I didn’t see any hesitation, any doubt,” 23-year-old Zavala said from the witness stand Oct. 20, recalling how Davis murdered his friends. “At that point, I’d just accepted that’s how I was going to die.”

“I just accepted that it was going to happen and that’s it,” he said. “The next thing I knew, I heard a bang, and I just passed out.”

A jury deliberated for three hours Friday and found 37-year-old Davis guilty of murdering two students and attempting to kill a third, bringing a three-week trial to an end. Davis was found guilty of two counts of second degree murder, one count of attempted first degree murder and child abuse.

Assistant State Attorney John Waters questioned the surviving victim, Esteban Zavala, taking jurors back to the evening of April 24, 2012.

Assistant State Attorney John Waters addresses the jury during opening statements of Joshua Davis’ trial Monday, Oct. 17.

The four men met when they worked at McDonald’s in Winter Haven and decided to smoke marijuana together with Davis at his Lake Howard apartment. Rodriguez and Zavala stepped outside to smoke with Davis while Palacios stayed inside with Davis’ 7-year-old daughter.

Upon returning to the apartment, Zavala said, they didn’t talk much, but he watched as Davis “darted down the hallway” to his bedroom.

“Everything seemed weird,” Davis said in a sworn statement to law enforcement that was played during trial.
Davis claimed he felt the three students were sending signals to each other, so he felt like he needed to protect his home.

“I could see them shake their heads ever so slightly. I just knew they were about to do something,” Davis told law enforcement. “Something inside me told me it wasn’t OK.”

Davis said he saw “darkness in their faces” and had a “dark feeling” come over him.

Zavala said he heard bangs and saw flashes of light come from the hallway. Both Rodriguez and Palacios were shot in the head at point-blank range.

As Zavala tried to hide behind a couch, he felt his leg give out but didn’t realize he’d just been shot. Davis walked around the couch to where Zavala was laying and pointed the gun at his forehead.

“What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” Zavala asked Davis.

Davis didn’t hesitate. He shot Zavala in the left temple, but the bullet passed through his face and stopped in his right cheek.

Assistant State Attorney John Waters points to a hand-drawn picture of the inside of Joshua Davis’ house. Waters used the map to show jurors where each of the students were when Davis shot them.

Zavala regained consciousness and pulled himself up to see Davis talking to his daughter while holding the gun in his hand. Zavala’s vision had a purple hue, he could only open his right eye and his ears were ringing, but he realized he only had one chance to get the gun away from Davis.

“I either try and get that gun off of him … or I’m dying and die trying,” Zavala said from the stand.

He lunged at Davis and fought him for the gun. He placed his hands over the trigger, making sure the gun wasn’t pointed at Davis’ daughter, and squeezed until three more bullets fired.

But Zavala wasn’t sure he’d emptied the gun of its bullets.

He fell backward and watched as Davis pointed the gun at him again, inches away from his face.

“All I heard was just the click noise of the gun,” Zavala said. “When I heard the click, it was a frozen moment.

Zavala was able to make it out of the apartment and down the stairs where he was able to get medical help.

“There are two guys inside, and I’m pretty sure I killed both of them,” Davis told a medic at the crime scene. “I just got so scared … It’s almost like could read their minds by looking at their faces and feeling the vibes.”

Assistant State Attorney John Waters speaks to the jury during closing statements Thursday, Oct. 27. The jury deliberated for three hours on Oct. 29 before finding Davis guilty of second-degree murder and attempted first degree murder.

The defense claimed Davis was simply protecting his daughter and his home. They also claimed Davis was legally insane.

Waters argued that Davis’ paranoia after smoking marijuana was not a valid defense for murdering two people and attempting to murder a third. He also said it’s clear Davis wasn’t insane because he questioned his own actions during his statement to police.

“I just remember almost blind firing … I was very angry,” Davis said. “All I remember is thinking to myself, ‘What am I doing?’”

Davis will be sentenced by Judge Harb Dec. 9.