The Private Trial of Donald Davis

A Houston attorney who specialized in saving killers' lives couldn't handle his own. So he took it.

When he didn't hear from Davis by Monday, Osso started calling Davis's office, but no one there had much information, either. Morrow and other courthouse friends did likewise, with the same results.

On Tuesday, with Davis still missing in action, the courthouse clerk contacted the Carodines, who contacted Davis. Davis assured his cousin that everything was fine. He said Wayne Arnold, the son of the man from whom Davis was renting his house, and the son's wife had come over, and they were going out for a late dinner. Another friend, Lyndon Baines Johnson, was also dropping by. Davis and Carodine agreed to have lunch the next day.

The next day, Wednesday, June 21, Carodine decided to take off early from his job in HPD's forensic identification division. He headed home a little before noon and planned to take a quick nap before meeting Davis for lunch. But when he arrived home, Carodine's wife informed him that the courthouse clerk had called again. The clerk reported that she had gone to Davis's home the night before to warn him that his no-shows in court had resulted in a warrant being issued for his arrest. She said Davis just laughed at her news. He told her that it didn't matter because he was quitting his law practice and going home -- going back to Grambling to be with his family.

Houston police officer Randy Carodine and Donald Davis were more like brothers than cousins.
Deron Neblett
Houston police officer Randy Carodine and Donald Davis were more like brothers than cousins.
Houston police officer Randy Carodine and Donald Davis were more like brothers than cousins.
Deron Neblett
Houston police officer Randy Carodine and Donald Davis were more like brothers than cousins.

"To me that was a sign he was going to kill himself," says Carodine, "because he would never go back to Grambling other than to visit, because it reminded him of being poor."

Carodine immediately drove to the one-story brick house Davis rented on Laurel Drive. The closer he got, the more he knew something wasn't right. He pulled into the driveway and saw that the automatic double garage doors were open. Davis, very much a creature of habit, never left the garage doors open.

"I sat in the driveway for probably 15 minutes, but it seemed like an hour," says Carodine. "Because I just knew."

Carodine pulled out his cellular phone and punched in Davis's number. There was no answer. He knocked on the front door. Again, no answer. He called Davis on the phone one more time, and when the answering machine kicked in, Carodine announced that if Davis didn't come to the door, he would use his key to enter the house. Still, there was no response, so Carodine let himself inside. He found Davis in the bathroom.

"When I initially saw him, he just looked like he was asleep," Carodine says. "It wasn't a bloody crime scene. He was just lying on pillows on an open comforter. But he was in the bathroom. And my first reaction was, "My God, this guy's in a deep depression.' But then I bent down, and I saw the gun."

The autopsy on Davis's body was performed by Assistant Harris County Medical Examiner Roger P. Milton Jr., who ruled the death a suicide from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. According to the M.E.'s investigator's notes, a blue steel Smith & Wesson six-shot .38 special with one spent shell casing under the hammer and five other live rounds was discovered near the body on the bathroom floor. The report adds that Davis borrowed the pistol from a family friend for protection.

"It appears the deceased neatly placed a folded quilt on the bathroom floor, put two pillows at one end, then lay down and shot himself in the abdomen front to back," reads the investigator's report, which also notes an exit wound just above the right buttock.

That conclusion is supported by Milton's autopsy, which found a bullet entrance wound about an inch above Davis's navel. "The direction of the wound path is front to back, left to right and downward," states the autopsy report. A bullet, which apparently was stopped by the bathroom floor, was located between Davis's back and his pants.

One thing that was not found at the scene was a suicide note. Not that everyone who kills himself leaves a note, but some members of Davis's family have a hard time believing that he would take his own life. Of course, such a belief is common among families of suicide victims.

A more telling note may have appeared in the October 2000 edition of the Texas Bar Journal: It announced that Davis had been suspended from practicing law for two years this past May.

"The suspension was not the reason he killed himself," says Carodine, "but the result of him just giving up on life. He knew if he didn't answer" the complaints, "there was going to be some kind of punishment. I think once he got the notice that his license was going to be revoked, I think he then had a time frame in mind of when he was going to do it."

Private investigator Joe Patillo, who often worked for Davis, adamantly believes that Davis did not take his own life. Patillo says Davis always kept large sums of cash around the house -- as much as $50,000 -- in a money box. Although the box was located, Patillo says no money was found in the house, a fact confirmed by Carodine. Patillo also is troubled by the trajectory of the bullet as it tore through Davis's abdomen. Patillo maintains that since Davis was right-handed, if the shot was fired above the navel from Davis's right hand, the path of the bullet should have been right to left, not left to right. (Gunpowder residue tests were inconclusive as to which hand was used to fire the weapon, if either.) Patillo also believes the three people Davis was with the night he died -- the Arnolds and Johnson -- should be more closely questioned by police. "I have an investigation company," says Patillo, "but there's not a thing I can do, because I cannot pull those people in and hold them" and question them "for 72 hours, and the police can."

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