Man pleads guilty in death of Shelby County woman

By KATIE HURST/ Staff Writer

PELL CITY — The Sterrett man arrested for the death of 62-year-old Diana Donahoo Rice, also of Sterrett, changed his plea to guilty Nov. 9 in a St. Clair County court.

Randy O’Neal Davidson, 30, pleaded guilty to the capital murder of Rice, whose body was found in St. Clair County woods in April 2009.

Davidson changed his plea under a plea agreement that will allow him to avoid the death penalty. St. Clair County assistant attorney Carole Boone said the state’s evidence would show Davidson strangled the victim to death during the commission of a robbery.

In accordance with the plea agreement, prosecutors recommended he be sentenced to life without parole.

Davidson was arrested in 2009 after being found in Rice’s car in Birmingham with the victim’s blood on his clothes.

Authorities said Rice’s body was found in a wooded area in the Prescott community of South St. Clair County and the $400 she had withdrawn from the bank was missing.

Shelby County investigators said at the time Davidson admitted to being under the influence of methamphetamines and hadn’t slept for eight or nine days.

Despite the plea agreement, prosecutors are required to present the state’s case to a jury in any capital murder case, Boone said.

Circuit Court Judge Jim Hill set the trial date for Nov. 29. Davidson’s guilty plea is now part of the state’s evidence, which will be presented to the jury in order to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. No defense will be put on for Davidson.

The victim’s family and investigators involved in the case also signed off on the plea agreement.