SPOKANE, Wash. – After 10 years, the manner of death for a woman found dismembered and dumped in a sleeping bag has been amended from ‘undetermined’ to ‘homicide.’ The request for Spokane’s new medical examiner to the review the original autopsy report and findings conducted by those who held the title before her, came from the Spokane Police Department.
Dr. Veena D. Singh wrote in an addendum, mailed to the family of Kala Williams, in part stating, ‘Scene investigation, findings, autopsy findings, and toxicology results warrant changed in original certification to the following:
Cause of Death: Homicide by unspecified means
Manner of Death: Homicide'
“[The new medical examiner] has poured grace over our family,” Kala’s mother Martine Maggio told KHQ. “We were beyond floored someone still cares about Kala.”
Martine says even days later, she’s still in shock.
“Obviously this was a murder, obviously,” she said. “It’s been 10 years. We want [justice.]”
She says the wait to get it nearly cost her life. She says the month of May is filled with horrific memories that caused her to go into a deep depression.
“I wouldn’t be eating,” she said. “There’s a gnawing edge in your stomach that never goes away.”
Kala’s body was found on Mother’s Day in 2012. She had been reported missing by her brother several weeks prior.
Martine, and Kala’s cousin Julie Beauchaine, both recall fearing the worst, when no one could track Kala down. The women remember hearing reports that a body had been found off of Highway 195 and suspected instantly that it was Kala.
“I didn’t want to hear the words... I knew, I already just knew,” Martine said.
She knew her daughter was gone, but nothing could have prepared her for the circumstances behind how she died, nor what happened after.
“And that's what causes the nightmares,” she said. “I have PTSD. I absolutely relive the situation all over again.”
And that’s exactly what Martine was doing in the early hours of Wednesday, May 18.
“I have periodic nightmares of Kala being tortured,” she admitted. “I always wake up in a panic attack.”
And on that particular morning, just such an event was coupled with her phone ringing.
“All I heard was... medical examiner... and my mind, it was racing,” she said.
She had hoped for it. Prayed too. But as the year’s since her daughter’s death stacked on, eventually hitting the decade mark, she wasn’t sure the words she heard from the medical examiner’s office would ever come.
“She just said it was ‘very evident’... very clearly a homicide,” Martine recalled.
And with that, Martine let herself feel something she hadn’t in years: hope.
The area where Kala was dumped is peaceful. It’s home to rich, overgrown landscape that remains even 10 years later, which is why the sleeping bag stood out when witnesses spotted it.
Upon closer look, they saw human remains, clothing, and trash bags stuffed inside.
Martine and Julie say they weren’t told the extent of what police were dealing with until a few days later.
“We found out she was cut in half,” Martine said. “We didn’t [learn this wasn’t ruled a homicide] until we got the [autopsy] report.”
That report, given to KHQ by the family, states Kala’s autopsy was performed two days after her body was found. It includes details on evidence collection, and both internal and external examination. It also includes Kala’s toxicology report which did indicate Kala had meth in her system. The official opinion by then Medical Examiner, Dr. John Howard, states the cause and manner of death are both undetermined. A finding he came to, according to the report, on June 2, 2012.
Martine says she confronted Dr. Howard. She and other family members begged him to reconsider.
“I said to him, ‘If this was your daughter would you really consider this undetermined? With stab wounds and so much dismemberment, and all that,'” she recalled. “She didn’t do that to herself.”
The report states Dr. Howard determined the dismemberment occurred after Kala was already deceased. Records state he made note of both the drugs in her system as well as her level of decomposition before officially stating his ruling of undetermined.
"Until additional information becomes available, for death certification purposes, the cause and manner of death are classified as undetermined,” he wrote.
Spokane Police continued to investigate the case.
According to their documents, multiple items were submitted for DNA testing, including what was found under Kala’s fingernails, a male's boxers located with her remains, and some black electrical tape that was wrapped around her neck. Results from some of the items tested had them honing in on a man they suspected might be involved.
"[A] CODIS hit identified the DNA as belonging to Robert G. Davis," documents state of some of the items.
SPD tracked Davis down, and detectives were told by him that he had ‘met Kala Williams a couple of times through her [then boyfriend.]’
When asked, Davis said he never had any type of sex with Williams, nor any type of sexual encounter with her. When asked if he would tell the truth about having sex with Williams, Davis responded, ‘probably not,’ according to police documents.
Detectives also recovered evidence whoever was involved with Kala’s death used bleach or chlorine, causing apparent burns to her body. Still, they state, DNA was able to be recovered.
In summer of 2012, detectives continued the investigative process. They state investigators spoke with Davis’s mother who turned them on to the possibility that her son may be involved in another high profile case, the disappearance of Heather Higgins. Documents state Davis’s mother told police that her son had told her he had ‘done something really bad’ and that he didn’t kill Higgins … but disposed of her body by putting her in a sleeping bag. She said he also told her he ‘drove up north on the way to a ski resort and pushed her off the side of the road into a very steep valley.’
Heather Higgins was last seen in 2010. Her body has never been found, but SPD says a large knife and her Eastern Washington University ID car were found less than four blocks from where Davis was living at the time. SPD says they determined her last phone call was made to ‘a number associated with Robert Davis.’ They say he admitted to giving her a ride that day, but that that was the last time he saw her.
SPD continued to work the case, but struggled to move it forward. With Heather’s body yet to be recovered, and Kala’s manner of death ruled ‘undetermined,’ any movement on charges against Robert Davis essentially stalled.
SPD sought a second opinion on Kala’s death.
By December of 2013, that opinion from Dr. Carl Wigren was finished. He wrote, after reviewing the autopsy report and photos, scene photos, even an in-person look at the scene, that ‘the cause of death is consistent with homicidal violence.’ He made note of ‘sharp injuries’ on Kala’s body and other suspected defensive wounds.
Dr. Wigren’s findings weren’t enough for legal proceedings against Davis, or anyone, to move forward. To date, Robert G. Davis has not faced any charge in connection with Kala or Heather’s cases.
Kala’s family believes without the county’s then medical examiner standing behind her death being a confirmed crime, the judicial process really had no where to go.
“It was in limbo,” Martine said.
And Davis remained free. In June of 2014, records state Davis attacked a woman in North Idaho. She told police Davis broke into her home, strangled her, and touched her sexually. She survived, and was able to help police find him. Davis was sent to prison for that incident, and that incident only. He was up for parole in late 2018. Kala Williams family made it a priority to be at the hearing in Idaho. They say when her name surfaced, his demeanor changed immediately.
“There was instant denial,” Julie said. “His face was getting darker red, veins popping [out.] His chin was moving. He was angry.”
Parole was denied, and Davis is set to stay in prison until at least 2024. Both Julie and Martine say they find comfort in that, but long for the day when someone, Davis or not, is doing time for what happened to their beloved Kala.
“It's solvable,” Martine said. “There's DNA evidence. Even though they tried to wipe it away with bleach, it didn't matter. It’s there.”
Kala Williams would be in her 30’s today. Her mom thinks she’d likely be a mom herself, maybe a nurse too.
“Some people just glow,” Martine said. “Because of their personality, you know? Kala was one of them.”
And so much of that, memories of her life, have been lost in the fight over her death.
"Everything has been so negative,” Julie said.
But this second, or rather third, review of Kala’s death, have given them reason to believe in something positive.
"This almost heals us,” Julie said.
“Oh yes, we [believe an arrest will now come,]” Martine said.
It is at least much more possible now, and just the thought of that is enough for Martine to let herself feel optimistic.
“This is a ray of hope,” she said.
In 2018, the then Spokane Medical Examiners were investigated by the Washington Department of Healthy for how they handled a total of 14 autopsies. The DOH found they ‘met the standard of care’ in all of them, including the case of Kala Williams.
Kala’s case is one of six that the new ME, Dr. Singh, has been formally asked to review. This kind of request, according to a county spokesperson, must be made by an immediate family member or, like in Kala’s case, law enforcement. Findings on two of the six are already complete. In both, Dr. Singh made amendments to the manner of death.