The Private Trial of Donald Davis

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

The first day of summer was not a good one for Houston police officer Randy Carodine. As he drove to his cousin's house on Laurel Drive in Riverside Terrace, just south of Texas Southern University, that Wednesday afternoon in June, Carodine knew he was probably too late. He knew what he was likely to find.

The night before, Carodine had called his cousin, noted criminal defense attorney Donald Davis, to see how he was doing. Davis claimed he was fine, but an earlier call to Carodine's home that evening had indicated otherwise. A criminal courthouse clerk who was friends with Davis had alerted Carodine that for the past two days Davis had been a no-show at a capital murder trial in which Davis was co-counsel for the defense.

Obviously things in Davis's life were not fine, and the no-show was an undeniable sign of it. Davis, after all, seemingly lived to perform the legal high-wire act of defending people facing the death penalty, and he was very good at keeping them off the state's ghastly waiting list otherwise known as death row. According to the Harris County district clerk's office, Davis was involved in representing at least 30 capital murder defendants between 1987 and this past summer, in addition to the rest of his heavy caseload; that's a formidable number of capital murder cases in any county, but especially in Harris, which sends more people to death row than any state in the country. In 11 of those cases, Davis's clients came away with life sentences. To some, a life sentence in prison might not seem like a victory, but it sure beats the hell out of a date with the executioner's needle.

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.
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.
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.
Donald Davis resembled the TV sitcom character Urkel, but he was all business in court.
Courtesy Linda Hanson
Donald Davis resembled the TV sitcom character Urkel, but he was all business in court.
Attorney Robert Morrow teamed with Davis on seven capital murder trials.
Deron Neblett
Attorney Robert Morrow teamed with Davis on seven capital murder trials.
Attorney Anthony Osso was baffled by Davis's disappearance during their last trial.
Deron Neblett
Attorney Anthony Osso was baffled by Davis's disappearance during their last trial.
Attorney Anthony Osso was baffled by Davis's disappearance during their last trial.
Deron Neblett
Attorney Anthony Osso was baffled by Davis's disappearance during their last trial.
Attorney Anthony Osso was baffled by Davis's disappearance during their last trial.
Deron Neblett
Attorney Anthony Osso was baffled by Davis's disappearance during their last trial.

Davis's success, say many of his colleagues, was owed to his ability to connect with juries; for some reason, they just seemed to like him. For that matter, so did the judges, who appointed him to many of the cases, and so did the prosecutors against whom Davis went head-to-head in the courtroom. Davis's appeal was certainly not due to any sort of larger-than-life Hollywood persona, as he was neither a handsome nor dashing man. The 43-year-old Davis was actually on the nerdy side. At six feet two inches and 195 pounds, he resembled a taller version of Steve Urkel, the gawky African-American character with the big glasses and annoyingly high-pitched voice in the now-defunct sitcom Family Matters.

Perhaps because of that facade, Davis was, for the most part, able to keep up the appearance that everything was fine. But by June, his life was unraveling -- as it had been for several months. Although Carodine had grown up in South Central Los Angeles and Davis in Grambling, Louisiana, the two men were close -- more like brothers than cousins -- and Carodine knew something was wrong. During the last year, says Carodine, Davis seemed to have grown disenchanted with the law.

"In my opinion," says Carodine, "Donald always took too much of a personal interest in his clients. I wouldn't say he became friends with them, but he went out of his way to help them. He'd pay for their schooling or loan them money. They could have followed him home and stolen his money, and he still probably would have represented them."

But recently Carodine had noticed a change. Davis began to question why he bothered busting his ass for people who didn't give a damn. It was a radical change of heart for an attorney who had spent most of his career defending the people society would just as soon ignore, or execute. To Davis, these people were as much symbols as defendants; they were reminders of the underprivileged folks who lived in Davis's native Grambling. And a long time ago, Davis made a pledge to himself that he would always be their guardian angel. He apparently never realized how large a toll it would take.

"He started talking more and more about how he felt jilted by his clients," says Carodine. "He complained about giving so much to people, and of people taking advantage of his generosity."

In retrospect, there were other warning signs as well. Carodine says that during the last two or three months before events finally reached a head, it became common for Davis to agree to come over to Carodine's house on the weekend, but then never arrive; he wouldn't even bother to call and say why. Carodine's wife also noted Davis's erratic behavior. So when Carodine learned that Davis had failed to appear in court, the officer confronted his cousin.

Davis insisted that all was well, and the cousins agreed to have lunch the next day. But that meal would never happen. The reality of Davis's circumstances belied the attorney's nonchalant attitude. In June the State Bar of Texas quietly notified Davis that the agency was suspending his law license for two years. For Davis, nothing could have been worse. They were taking away his life. So he beat them to the punch.


Because of its football team and the team's legendary head coach, Eddie Robinson, Grambling University is known as one of the preeminent black colleges in the country. Not as well-known is the fact that Grambling is also the name of the city in which the university is located. Just south of Interstate 20, between Shreveport and Monroe, Grambling is situated in northern Louisiana, smack-dab in the middle of the state's panhandle. It was there that Davis's mother and father raised him and his four sisters.

"It is Mayberry RFD," says Carodine, with a laugh. Or at least, he says, it was when he was there. Despite his Southern California upbringing, Carodine always looked forward to each summer when he would spend a month, sometimes two, with Davis and his family. Although he jokes about Grambling, Carodine has fond memories of those hot and humid Louisiana summers with his country cousin, who was one year older than Carodine.

"Donald had BB guns," remembers Carodine, smiling. "We'd visit our grandparents and walk along the train tracks. We'd fill a jug full of water, walk through the woods all day long and come back just before dark." Carodine doesn't recall Davis having any special interests in those worry-free days. He certainly didn't mention anything about wanting to be a lawyer. Yet, according to one old friend from Grambling, Davis was always near the top of his class.

"You've heard the saying it takes a whole village to raise a child?" asks Monroe Yearby, a childhood friend who now lives in Houston. "Well, that's the kind of community we came from." What's more, says Yearby, it was well known among the villagers that Davis was something of a golden child.

When Davis was 16, his father, who had worked as a custodian at Grambling University, died. Davis set his mind to providing for his mother and sisters. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He then went on to law school at Ohio State University. It was an accomplishment shared by not only his family, says Yearby, but the rest of the community. Just before Davis set off for Ohio State, Yearby says, the community gave Davis a going-away party. During the event, the president of Grambling University presented Davis with a legal briefcase containing a first-class ticket to Columbus. Davis wasn't representing just his family as he made his way into the world, he was representing Grambling.

"We knew he was aspiring to be somebody," says Yearby, "and the whole community was behind him."

Davis appreciated that support and tried to return the favor. After graduating from law school, he began subsidizing the income of his mother and sister. If someone in the community needed help, says Yearby, Davis often could be counted upon for it. He even once picked up the tab for one of his high school class reunions when there wasn't enough money to pay the bill.

While Davis was appreciative of the encouragement he received from the people of Grambling, he had absolutely no desire to return to Louisiana, aside from obligatory visits to his immediate family, according to his cousin. Houston, says Carodine, was an ideal location for Davis because it let him deal with his hometown on his own terms: It was close enough to Grambling to allow Davis to visit his family when he wanted to, but far enough away to keep his friends at arm's length.

"He was glad to get away from the country life," says Carodine. He was also ready for the big time.


In 1982, after graduating from Ohio State, Davis headed to Houston, where he studied for and passed the Texas bar exam and then took a job as a prosecutor with the Harris County district attorney's office. After five years of sending people to jail, Davis opened his own law office. His practice consisted primarily of capital murder and drug-related cases. He was good and quickly earned a reputation among judges -- judges weary of having capital murder convictions challenged on the grounds that a defendant's attorney did not provide adequate representation -- as an attorney they could appoint and be assured that he would provide a solid defense.

"He got the hardest cases, and he dealt with the most difficult defendants," says attorney Robert Morrow, who was co-counsel with Davis on at least seven capital cases. "His trial skills were highly regarded."

What he liked best about working with Davis, says Morrow, was his sense of trial strategy.

"He related to juries well," says Morrow. "Also, I tend to go off chasing new theories, but Donald would always keep you grounded, making sure you didn't go off too far into the ozone, making sure that you kept thinking about the jury and the client."

Many of Morrow's colleagues agree. In 1994 the Houston Chronicle polled Harris County judges and prosecutors about whom they would want to defend them if they were accused of a felony. Davis placed a formidable 11th on the list, trailing such local legends as Dick DeGuerin, Mike Ramsey, Mike DeGeurin, Rusty Hardin and Richard "Racehorse" Haynes.

Included on the list of Davis's former clients are Gary Lee Hawkins, the son of the recently executed Gary Graham, who has yet to stand trial; Darren McAfee, who received a life sentence for the death of his 18-month-old son, whom he beat with his fists and then strapped to an ironing board; Farley Matchett, who was sentenced to death for a drug-related fatal stabbing; Andre Sloan, who got a life sentence for a triple murder in connection with a cocaine rip-off; Frederick Patrick McWilliams, who was sentenced to death for killing a man during a robbery spree; Jeffrey Demond Williams, who was sentenced to die earlier this year for the slaying of Houston police officer Troy Blando; and Frederick Dale Turner, a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who got a life sentence after a deadly shooting spree in 1988.

The Turner case was the first in which Davis and Morrow worked together. They also teamed in the defense of young Peter Anthony Cantu. Although the results would not be what they wanted, in Morrow's opinion, Davis was at his best in the Cantu case, the one case that would affect Davis more personally than any other.


On the evening of June 24, 1993, a little before midnight, seven teenage males gathered along some railroad tracks near T.C. Jester and West 34th Street in northwest Houston to drink beer and initiate a new member into their gang, the Black and Whites. To gain acceptance into the gang, the prospective new member had to fight each of the other members for five to ten minutes.

At about the same time, 14-year-old Jennifer Ertman and 16-year-old Elizabeth Pena were walking home after a party when they decided to take a shortcut home beside the tracks. Along the way, the girls were confronted by the gang, including the boy police say was the self-appointed leader, 18-year-old Peter Cantu. Already revved up from the booze and the brawling, Cantu and the others were now ready for the girls. As Ertman and Pena walked past the boys, according to a statement given by Cantu to Houston police, he and four other gang members pulled the girls to the ground and brutally gang-raped them. The rapes were still going on when Cantu told one of his cohorts that they would have to kill their victims. Cantu and his friends dragged the girls into some nearby woods, known as Little Thicket, where they began strangling them.

"Joe had her from behind sitting on the ground strangling her with his hands when I kicked her in the face," reads Cantu's statement. "When she dropped to her back we checked for a pulse. I then went to check on Sean and Raul who were with the blond. They had already strangled her, and she was lying on her back. She was still moving slightly, and that's when I placed my left foot across her throat and placed some pressure on it for a few seconds. When I took my foot off, I believe it was Sean that placed his foot on her throat. We did this to make sure that they were dead. We didn't want to be identified."

But they were identified -- not by the girls, but by themselves. After leaving the scene, Cantu and two other gang members regrouped later that night at his house, where they happily bragged about their exploits to Cantu's older brother and sister-in-law. Cantu also showed them jewelry they had taken from the girls. At the urging of his wife, Cantu's older brother subsequently reported the incident to the police, and the five boys were arrested and charged with capital murder.

By the time the bodies were discovered, they were so badly decomposed that dental records were required for identification. Grisly crime scene and autopsy photographs too horrible to describe leave no doubt that Ertman and Pena suffered painful deaths. Details of the mindless killings shocked and outraged even jaded Houstonians long accustomed to big-city crime. Peter Cantu was the first member of the gang to be tried. He was represented by Davis and Morrow.

At the end of the trial, Cantu got what most people thought he had coming: a sentence to die by lethal injection. But the fact that Cantu ended up on death row, says Morrow, should not reflect poorly on Davis's courtroom performance. In fact, the attorney says, Davis was never better -- never more moving -- than during his closing arguments in the Cantu trial.

Davis began by acknowledging to the jurors that the crime scene photos shown to them by the prosecution were sickening, but were actually not the worst they could have seen. Davis also conceded that what happened to Ertman and Pena was "indefensible."

"Peter Cantu is not innocent," Davis told the jury. "I do not stand here in front of you to talk about an innocent man, because Peter Cantu committed a crime along with his friends that night."

However, Davis also maintained that police had embellished Cantu's statement. He said that testimony showed that another member of the gang -- not Cantu -- brought up the idea of killing the girls, and that while Cantu participated in the rapes, he did not help kill Ertman and Pena. "Mr. Cantu did not intentionally take the life of anyone," said Davis, "and that is what you must find beyond a reasonable doubt before you're warranted in finding a conviction for capital murder. Don't get confused. He is not the leader of a gang. These were a group of friends that got together and one night committed a horrible, horrible crime, because they raped these girls and there is no defense for that. Those girls had a right to take a shortcut home. I don't care if it's one o'clock in the morning or 12 o'clock at night, they had a right to do what they were doing, and they were wrong for stopping them. But he is not guilty of murder. The state has overcharged Peter Cantu in this case. We're asking you to find him not guilty of capital murder because there is no evidence that he intentionally took the life of Jennifer Ertman" -- the only death Cantu was charged with -- "or directed any of those boys to take her life."

The emotionally charged trial was front-page news. It was the first trial in Harris County in which the judge, state District Judge Bill Harmon, allowed the victims' families to address the defendants following the verdict, and Davis was aware of the public's outrage over the girls' torturous deaths.

"He said he felt like he was the most hated man in Houston during the Cantu trial," says Carodine. "I think most attorneys realize that sort of thing comes with the territory. He couldn't understand why people hated him for providing this guy with what everyone is entitled to."

But it wasn't just the Cantu case. Davis took them all too personally.


Despite his good record of keeping his clients off death row, Donald Davis was different from many other high-profile attorneys who specialize in capital murder cases; he didn't mind getting his hands dirty in the trenches. Unlike attorneys who are rarely seen except when they take center stage for high-profile cases, Davis had a nuts-and-bolts practice that kept him at the courthouse every day. He worked as tirelessly on a simple drug-possession case as he did a headline-generating murder trial. But sometimes, says Morrow, Davis's concern for his clients was cause for concern among his friends.

Davis, says Morrow, was a man of few affectations. He didn't spend a lot of money on clothes or cars. In fact, he didn't learn to drive until after he moved to Houston and Morrow taught him. After that, he never bought anything other than a Mercury Cougar. He indulged himself in stereo and computer equipment. Otherwise, he'd just as soon give his money away.

"For a while, we joked he had an adopted defendant of the month," says Morrow, laughing. "He'd hire on to defend some kid, and he'd try to get him straightened out. He'd take the kid under his wing, give him money, find him a job and find him a place to live -- sometimes with him. He did that to the extent that it was scary to me."

Carodine agrees. In fact, in 1986, when Carodine still was living in Los Angeles, he decided to get married and asked Davis to be his best man. Davis agreed but canceled at the last minute.

"He called me and said he was representing a young man who had no place to stay, so he was staying at Donald's house," says Carodine, shaking his head. "And he missed my wedding. That's the kind of person he was."

The slight, however, did not damage Davis's relationship with his cousin. When Carodine and his family moved to Houston in 1994, he and Davis grew even closer. A few years earlier Carodine had injured his back while working as a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office. When he was offered early retirement, he jumped at it and relocated to Houston, where he landed a job with HPD.

Carodine's move to Houston gave Davis a life outside the courthouse. He and Carodine talked on the phone daily, and the attorney spent many weekends and most holidays with the officer and his family -- either in Houston or back in Grambling.

Carodine admits his cousin could be a quirky man. For example, he ordered the same dish at every restaurant he went to. A car trip with Davis behind the wheel was also an experience. "When he drove to work, it was always in the same lane," says Carodine. "We'd drive to Grambling sometimes. He would drive in the same lanes. And he always stopped at the Luby's in Lufkin, the halfway point. Drive in the same lane all the way there. It would drive me crazy. He always set the cruise control three miles over the speed limit. And I'd tell him it was time to get over for an exit. And he'd say, "What do you mean, it's time? I don't get over until I pass this street.' If they had ever closed down one lane of the freeway, he probably couldn't have found his way home."

As for a romantic life, there were, says Carodine, a couple of women he dated occasionally, but none seriously. Nor did he hunt or fish. Outside the legal profession, "family meant everything to him," says Carodine.

Morrow agrees. In fact, he was happy when Carodine moved to Houston and gave Davis some sort of life away from his work. For try as he might, says Morrow, there was just no getting close to Davis away from the practice.

"I remember he used to say not to call him at home if I had a problem with a case," says Morrow, who is married to an attorney. "You could call him if you had a computer problem -- he didn't mind talking about that -- but don't call him about a case. But this is a pretty hard business, and it's even harder when you're by yourself."

Yet even with Carodine and his family available to lend support, Davis still couldn't reach out when he most needed to.

"He just wouldn't ask for anything," says Morrow. "You could only get so close to him."


Robert Morrow refuses to second-guess himself about what could or could not have been done to save Donald Davis. The best he can figure, he and everyone else began to lose Davis last February when a Harris County jury sentenced 24-year-old Jeffrey Demond Williams for the May 1999 fatal shooting of Troy Blando, a 39-year-old Houston police officer. Williams was represented by Davis, along with attorney David Cunningham. Morrow says Davis took the verdict hard. Around the same time, another of his former clients, Ponchai Wilkerson, was executed. Wilkerson was the first of his clients to get the needle.

Morrow doesn't believe it was the courthouse, or at least not the courthouse alone, that killed Donald Davis. Although Morrow didn't know it at the time -- few people did -- for the past several months, the State Bar of Texas had been hounding Davis to respond to a couple of grievances that had been filed against him. Instead, he ignored them.

"You have to deal with those things," says Morrow. "It was all so manageable. But he was very proud. And he was treated very well at the courthouse. He had earned his status in the community. And I don't think he wanted that in jeopardy."

According to state bar records obtained by the Houston Press under the Texas Open Records Act, at least two grievances were filed against Davis. One complaint was made by Houston attorney Timothy Ploch, who accused Davis of pocketing the $1,500 he paid Davis to have the criminal record of J. Marcus Laney expunged, which Ploch claims never happened. The other grievance was filed by John Wesley Myers of La Marque. Myers was not pleased with the HPD investigation into the murder of his daughter. He paid Davis $500 to initiate a private probe of the homicide, but charged that he never heard anything from the attorney after giving him the money. When contacted by the Press, Ploch declined to comment. Myers repeated the accusations made in his grievance to the state bar.

Davis kept to himself about the state bar investigation into the allegations against him, but family and friends began to notice slight changes in his demeanor. He didn't return his pages or e-mails. He told people he had stomach problems. There was a rumor he had stomach cancer. Compounding his problems, Davis kept signing on to capital murder cases. In the opinion of his cousin, it was impossible for Davis to refuse a capital case, even when his caseload was already suffocating him, because of his humble roots in Grambling.

"He remembered being very poor growing up," says Carodine. "And he wouldn't turn down a capital case, because he felt like, at one time, maybe he could have been in that position and not had the money for representation. He didn't like to see someone caught in that position. He felt that these people should not be victims of circumstance, of being poor and of not being able to afford a competent attorney."

In addition to the Williams case, Davis agreed to defend Gary Lee Hawkins, the son of celebrity death row inmate Gary Graham, in his own capital murder trial. This past June, Davis was also appointed to be co-counsel, along with attorney Anthony Osso, in the defense of Jeremiah Russell. Russell was accused of using a gun stolen from a Houston police officer to rob and fatally shoot 24-year-old Lu Hu, a Chinese woman attending Houston Community College. Hu's body was found outside her apartment in a pool of blood with her pants and panties down around her legs.

During the guilt-or-innocent phase of the trial, Davis mostly sat quietly at the defense table, with Osso doing the majority of the objecting and questioning of witnesses. Davis's role was to keep the excitable Russell under control. After the jury found Russell guilty, Davis vanished.


This past June 15, a Thursday, testimony began in the courtroom of state District Judge Joan Huffman to determine if Jeremiah Russell should be executed or sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Lu Hu. When court convened, Osso found himself alone at the defense table with Russell. Donald Davis was nowhere to be found.

"The night before we said good-bye," says Osso. "We talked about how we were going to split up the rest of the case. He was going to present [Russell's] family members. I was going to handle the expert witnesses. And that's the last time that I spoke to him."

Court personnel attempted to contact Davis with no success on Thursday, and the case proceeded without him. On Friday, when Davis again failed to show up for trial, Osso says, the court received information that Davis was suffering from stress and was seeing a doctor. Friday afternoon the jury returned with a verdict and sentenced Russell to life in prison. Osso was elated and knew that Davis would be, too.

"The verdict was in Saturday's paper, so I thought I would hear from him over the weekend even if he was bedridden," says Osso. "I thought he might call me, because we worked pretty hard on that case."

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.

"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."

Veteran homicide investigators who spoke with the Presssay the autopsy report raises no red flags with them. However, they point out that in most gun-related male suicides, the victim shoots himself in the head; women and gay men are more likely to shoot themselves in the stomach.

Davis's family in Grambling plans to ask Houston Police Chief C.O. Bradford to reopen the investigation. (The Press contacted Wayne Arnold's wife, who referred all questions to her husband, but the paper was unable to reach either Arnold, Johnson or Sergeant Tom Ladd, the homicide investigator who conducted the department's probe.)


Randy Carodine is not sure what to think about the death of Donald Davis. Like the other members of the Davis family, he can't help but have his doubts. But for the most part, he believes the tragedy is what it seems to be: a suicide.

"I don't think I've come to grips with it yet," says Carodine. "I've had to be strong for his family."

Davis's other family members -- the people at the criminal courthouse -- also are trying to come to terms with the death. In September, in response to Davis's death, the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association hosted a seminar in Houston titled "Coping with the Practice," which focused on helping attorneys spot fellow lawyers on the edge, or realize when they are out there on that ledge themselves.

But the grieving continues. At Davis's funeral, attorney Connie Williams, who shared office space with Davis, told mourners that he could always count on Davis to have his back. Robert Morrow, in the three minutes he was allowed to speak, said he remembered the things Davis could do in three minutes: cross-examine a witness, decide whether he liked a prospective juror and make a spaghetti dinner.

As for Carodine, he continues to hear rumors that Davis was dying of cancer or had AIDS. Rarely a day goes by that someone doesn't ask him about Davis or say that they miss him.

"And it's almost like I want people to ask, because I feel myself getting depressed," says the police officer. "But I sit there and think about what I would be doing if he was there. I miss watching The Practice and calling him to say, "Oh, those no-good attorneys.' Then NYPD Blue would come on, and he'd call me and say, "Oh, those no-good police officers.' To this day, I still e-mail him. I haven't taken his phone number out of my automatic dial. I know he's gone, but..."

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