A Shady Spring man pleaded guilty Tuesday to first-degree murder for the death of a retired Raleigh County school teacher in June 2020.

Following his guilty plea, Joseph Fitzgerald Davis, 46, was sentenced to life in prison with mercy.

Davis was arrested in June 2020 after the body of Margaret Lilly, who taught school in the Daniels and Shady Spring districts, was found in her home on Canterbury Drive in Shady Spring.

First responders were initially called to Lilly’s home after a call was placed to Raleigh County 911 Center for a fire at the home. After crews from several volunteer fire departments put out the fire, investigators found Lilly’s body inside.

The next day, Davis was found in Summers County with Lilly’s car and allegedly had a stand-off against state police before he was arrested.

According to the criminal complaint, Davis admitted to police that he shot Lilly with a gun from her nightstand after the two got into an argument.

Davis denied having any knowledge regarding the fire.

The prosecuting attorney on this case, Brian Parsons, said he was relieved to have the case come to a just ending.

“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, this person or that person would give you the shirt off their back.’ Margaret Lilly really was that person,” Parsons said. “And her good nature and her empathy led to her demise. It's awful to think that you would take the life of someone who gave so freely to you. It's an awful thing to even think about. But in terms of being a victim, Margaret Lilly was a true victim.”

Although Davis and Lilly were not related by blood, Parsons said their relationship was “something akin to a mother-son, familial relationship."

Parsons said Davis initially met Lilly’s husband while the two were serving together in prison.

“When they both got out of prison, (Lilly’s) husband invited (Davis) to come to the house and live with them,” Parsons said. “That's how they met.”

Parsons said he believes Davis started the fire at Lilly’s home to cover up his crime. However, Parsons said the reason he did not pursue additional charges was because the capital offense was the most pertinent.

“My attitude was that the life sentence covered all the conduct,” he said. “...I'm more focused on clearing the homicide and proving the murder. Attempts to destroy the crime scene, that's not what that case was about as far as I see it.”

Parsons said the decision to offer mercy for the life sentence was part of the plea agreement and accepted by the presiding judge, Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick.

This means Davis will be eligible for parole in 15 years.

“Eligibility and attainability are two different notions,” Parsons said. “But in the state of West Virginia, life in prison with mercy means no possibility of parole until you've served a minimum of 15 years.”

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