Life Without Father

Inmates on Texas' Death Row leave behind immeasurable pain and countless victims--including their own families

The pain he's seen on his grandson's face always lingers with him as they drive away from the prison.

Almost without exception, Jim returns home mentally drained and physically exhausted. The worst, he says, came in May, on the day Brian had first been scheduled to die. There were tears and laughter, prayers and painful goodbyes. Brian talked at length with T.J., encouraging him to continue his education and make something of his life. "He was trying so hard to be strong for everyone," says Pam Davis, Jim's wife. "He was doing his best to keep us upbeat. A scene like that is difficult to describe. Unless you've been through it--waiting for someone you love, a perfectly healthy person, to be taken away to die--you have no idea what it's like."

"No person should be put through that kind of torture," her husband adds angrily.

Brian Davis musters a smile for his ex-wife and steadfast supporter, Tracy Tucker.
Brian Davis musters a smile for his ex-wife and steadfast supporter, Tracy Tucker.
Tracy Tucker and her son T.J. believe Brian Davis is innocent of the brutal 1991 murder for which he was convicted. "My dad has always said he is innocent," T.J. says. "He wouldn't lie to me about a thing like that."
Mark Graham
Tracy Tucker and her son T.J. believe Brian Davis is innocent of the brutal 1991 murder for which he was convicted. "My dad has always said he is innocent," T.J. says. "He wouldn't lie to me about a thing like that."

Watching as his son was shackled and escorted to the van that would transport him to the Death House, the elder Davis admits, was worse than any Vietnam combat situation he ever experienced.

Then, just two hours before the scheduled 6 p.m. execution, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay, ordering that the mental retardation issue be reviewed. Greg Wiercicoch, an attorney with the Austin-based Texas Defender Service, which files pro bono death sentence appeals, had successfully argued that Davis' I.Q. was within the clinically accepted retardation range.

"I never suffered any post-traumatic stress after 'Nam," Jim Davis says, "but in the weeks after that visit, I got a pretty good idea what it was all about." Even now he sleeps no more than a couple of hours at a time. "I wake," he says, "and think about Brian, about where he is, about the possibility of what might eventually happen to him. It's all so barbaric." For a time he sought therapeutic help.

Tracy Tucker, T.J.'s mother and Brian Davis' ex-wife, says she completely lost her voice for a week after that tension-filled day. Her doctor told her it was a result of the stress; same with the severe chest pains she suffered for several days.

Today, Jim Davis still searches his mind for something that might magically remedy the nightmarish situation but always comes to the realization that there is little he can do. He and Pam, whom he married in 1988, have paid out thousands in attorneys' fees, written letters to high places, sought help from anti-death penalty organizations. "In the end," he admits, "what you do is expect the worst and hope for the best."

T.J. and Jim Davis are what some sociologists call the "other victims," innocent and unsuspecting family members whose lives have been indelibly scarred by a criminal act. Traditionally, society focuses sympathetically on the family and friends of homicide victims but seldom addresses the ripple effect on those related to the person who committed the crime. "There is an unjust stigma attached to being related to someone who is in prison for committing a violent act," says Tina Church, a friend of the Davises and an Indiana private investigator who specializes in the re-examination of death penalty cases. "Society has adopted a guilt-by-association mind-set that is terribly unfair."

Houston's Dave Atwood, founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, agrees. "Unfortunately, there's a long-standing tendency to assume that the family is somehow responsible for the criminal's actions," he says. "Certainly, there are a lot of people in prison who are the products of dysfunctional families, abuse and neglect, but not always. I've met many families of Death Row inmates who are wonderful people, unjustly held responsible for something they had absolutely no part in."

It is for this reason that Tucker advises T.J. to keep his father's past a secret. "I know that just as soon as others know what his dad has been accused of, there will be some parents who no longer want their sons and daughters associating with him. I don't want him exposed to cruel teasing from his peers.

"It's a hard thing to explain, and I'm not sure he fully understands it yet, but that's just how a lot of people are."

And so for years, the sins of the father have remained a family secret--even though Brian Davis' father, his son and ex-wife are firmly convinced he didn't commit the crime that led him to Death Row.

"My dad has always said he is innocent," T.J. says. "He wouldn't lie to me about a thing like that."


The story of Brian and Tracy began 18 years ago, filled with the warm excitement of teen-age romance. During the 1984 Thanksgiving holidays, Brian Davis, a handsome, green-eyed 16-year-old, traveled with his parents from nearby Mineral Wells to the Mid-Cities community of Richland Hills and met a petite, freckled blonde named Tracy Clark. Also 16, she was immediately taken by Davis' good looks, sense of humor and country-boy charm. Never mind that her parents expressed immediate concern over her spending time with a young man who already had a troubled history of alcohol and drug use, petty criminal behavior, an openly rebellious attitude toward school and authority and a questionable I.Q. that had caused some who knew him to label him "slow."
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