Life Without Father

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

Even as the Humble police were still in the early stages of their investigation, Davis and his wife were already in the Harris County jail, charged with yet another offense--an aggravated robbery that had occurred just days after the Foster murder. Again, according to Houston police records, the bar-prowling couple had picked up another man, driven him to a motel, then robbed and stabbed him. This time, however, their victim lived. A motel employee, hearing screams, had interrupted the attack. In short order, Davis and McDonald were arrested.

Soon, members of a local skinhead group and the owner of the bar who'd seen Davis and his wife leave with Foster on the night of his death provided authorities with enough information to charge the couple with his murder.

It was in November of 1991 that Brian finally reached an agreement with investigators, who'd questioned him repeatedly about Foster's death. He would confess, he said, but only if his wife, whom he insisted had not participated in the crime, was not charged. Ultimately, it was agreed that Tina McDonald would receive immunity for any involvement she might have had in Foster's death. Davis, unaware that he'd become the target of a death penalty prosecution, assumed he would most likely receive a life sentence that would require him to actually serve no more than 15 years.

Mark Graham
Life with Daddy: Brian Edward Davis spent a few brief years with his son, though T.J. Davis has no recollections of those days. Center snapshot: T.J. visits his father, a convicted killer, on Texas' Death Row.
Life with Daddy: Brian Edward Davis spent a few brief years with his son, though T.J. Davis has no recollections of those days. Center snapshot: T.J. visits his father, a convicted killer, on Texas' Death Row.

As he told his story, Brian Davis--who once described himself to police as "a time bomb waiting to go off"--appeared at times to be confused about critical details, describing a two-edged dagger used to commit the murder when, in fact, the medical examiner's report indicated the fatal wounds had been made by a knife with only one sharp edge. His recollection of the date of the crime was almost two days later than it had actually occurred. A diagram he drew of the victim's apartment was generally accurate except that he'd placed the rooms opposite from where they actually were.

Still, in June 1992, a jury, after viewing his videotaped confession, found Davis guilty of capital murder, and he was sentenced to die. Tina McDonald, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery in the other crime and began serving a 40-year prison sentence in Gatesville. In accordance with the agreement prosecutors made with her husband, she was never charged in the Foster murder.

Last fall, however, McDonald, now divorced from Davis and no longer in touch with him, gave a detailed written confession in which she admitted that she, in fact, had killed Foster. Davis, she wrote, was not even present at the time of the murder. Before driving to Humble, she said, she had dropped off her intoxicated husband at the Houston motel where they were living at the time. Later, after they'd reached his apartment, Foster began to make sexual advances toward her. That, she said, was what had prompted her to stab him repeatedly.

Though McDonald would later recant her confession, Davis' parents and Tracy Tucker believe there is ample evidence to support her confession. "From the day I first visited him in the Harris County jail soon after he was charged," Jim Davis says, "Brian has insisted that he didn't do it. His story has never changed." Strands of hair found clutched in the victim's hand matched the red-haired McDonald. The victim's jacket and music tapes taken from his apartment were recovered from her car, along with a knife that had only her fingerprints on it. Additionally, her description of the crime scene more closely matched what police initially saw.

In a time before DNA became an investigative tool, there was no physical evidence that directly linked Brian Davis to the crime. Fort Worth attorney Scott Brown has filed motions asking that the courts place Tina McDonald on the stand. "Have both sides question her," he suggests, "then let a judge decide if she's telling the truth or not." His requests have been denied.

"There's no question that Tina McDonald was a violent person, an avowed skinhead with a reputation for always carrying a knife," says investigator Church. "And she was by far the smarter and more aggressive of the two."

Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler, who prosecuted Davis, does not dispute Church's observation but dismisses McDonald's claim that she alone murdered Foster. "She's always flip-flopped," says Siegler, who is convinced both Davis and McDonald participated in the crime. "You couldn't imagine a worse couple hooking up."

But why, if he didn't commit the crime as he now claims, would Brian Davis have confessed to it? "He's always told me that he did it to protect his wife," Tucker says. "He says he would have done the same for me."

The version of events that Davis told his ex-wife closely parallels what McDonald described in her confession. He was too drunk to drive, he told Tucker, and got into the backseat of McDonald's car after leaving the club. Because he woke the following morning unaware of how he got to the motel, he could only assume that she'd dropped him off there before driving Foster on to Humble. McDonald, whom he describes as a "wild woman" who always dressed in fatigues and fervently embraced the skinhead philosophy, had never mentioned what occurred that night.

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