T. Cullen Davis
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Thomas Cullen Davis (born September 22, 1933, Fort Worth, Texas) is an American oil heir and member of a prominent family. Davis is best known for being acquitted of murder and attempted murder in two high-profile trials during the 1970s. At the time of his first trial, Davis was believed to be the wealthiest man to have stood trial for murder in the United States.
First he was accused of murdering his stepdaughter on August 2, 1976, during a contentious divorce from his second wife, Priscilla Davis. He was found not guilty. The second trial, two years later, involved allegations that Davis attempted to hire a hitman to kill both Priscilla and the judge overseeing his divorce from Priscilla. Again, Davis was acquitted.
Early life and first trial
Thomas Cullen Davis was one of three siblings, all male. His father founded KenDavis Industries International, Inc., which manufactured goods used in the petroleum industry.
Davis and his brothers received equal shares of their father's estate upon his death, and all three were described as possessing keen business instincts. At the first trial, Davis's wealth was estimated at over $100 million ($430 million today).
Davis had a reputation in Fort Worth society circles for displays of bad temper and general "creepiness", according to female associates. Davis' second marriage was to Priscilla Lee Childers. They were married on August 29, 1968, only hours after the death of his father. It was her third marriage. Priscilla had one daughter from her first marriage, and two children from her second marriage, including Andrea Wilborn.
In 1972, Davis spent $6 million ($35 million today) to build Stonegate Mansion, a five-bedroom, 11-bath mansion with an indoor pool and a 2,000-square-foot (190 m2) master bedroom. In its prime, the luxurious, contemporary home of courtyards, tunnels and balconies at 4100 Mockingbird Lane was decorated with more than 100 oil paintings. The mansion was designed by Albert S. Komatsu and Associates.
Davis and Childers separated in 1974 and both began dating other people openly. A judge granted Priscilla the right to live in the Stonegate property during the divorce proceedings and further authorized substantial spousal and child support payments from Davis to Childers. Her live-in boyfriend was Stan Farr, a former basketball star at nearby Texas Christian University.
On August 2, 1976, an intruder entered Stonegate Mansion and killed 12-year-old Andrea, who was home alone after returning from a Bible study. The body of Andrea would later be found in the basement, apparently shot execution-style.
When Childers and her then-boyfriend Stan Farr returned home, both were shot. Farr died at the scene. Childers staggered from the house being pursued by the killer as two family friends, Beverly Bass and Gus Gavrel, Jr., drove up to the mansion. The killer shot Gavrel, paralyzing him for life.
Childers identified Davis to police, saying he had shot her and Farr, wearing no disguise except a wig. Gavrel said he was shot after his companion recognized the gunman as Davis and called him by name. Police arrested Davis that same night, at the home he shared with Karen Master, his then-girlfriend who would become his third wife.
Davis was only tried for the murder of Andrea. He was defended by famous Texas defense attorney Richard "Racehorse" Haynes. The prosecution case relied almost entirely on eyewitness testimony. Earlier the day of the shooting, a judge had ordered Davis's monthly support to Priscilla increased from $3500 to $5000 ($15,050 to $21,500 today) and to pay her legal fees of $25,000 ($107,510 today) and household expenses of $24,000 ($103,210 today).
This change was proposed as a motive for the crimes. Davis did not testify in his own defense. Haynes's defense concentrated on two main points. First, the complete lack of physical evidence linking Davis to the crime (no fingerprints, no firearm linked to the murder, etc.).
Second, Haynes focused on the eyewitness testimony, particularly Priscilla. Haynes depicted her as living in two worlds: Fort Worth high society, and a milieu of drug dealers, criminals and sleazy sex. Haynes proposed that Priscilla's admitted heavy use of prescription painkillers made her an unreliable witness who might have been confused about the identity of her attacker.
Journalist George Cartwright wrote: "most observers agreed later that the case was won as soon as Haynes completed his cross-examination of Priscilla"; this occurred only two weeks into a three-month trial. Davis was found not guilty. Of the trial, prosecutor Tim Curry said, "We were out-bought and out-thought".
In related civil litigation concerning Wilborn's death following the murder trial, Davis prevailed and was held not liable for her death. The children of Stan Farr later sued Davis for wrongful death and received a $250,000 out of court settlement.
In 1978, Davis was arrested again, this time for allegedly hiring a hitman to murder both Priscilla Davis and the judge overseeing their ongoing divorce litigation.
The case largely hinged on a tape-recorded conversation between Davis and David McCrory, an undercover employee posing as a hitman for hire which was recorded in the parking lot of the Denny's restaurant where Davis was arrested. In the recording, Davis was alleged to have asked the undercover employee to murder his wife and the judge. The trial of Texas v. Cullen T. Davis was one of the first uses of forensic discourse analysis on tape-recorded evidence in a legal setting in the United States.
A discourse analyst testified that Davis' words in the tape did not constitute solicitation of murder. Haynes again defended Davis. He again attacked the prosecution's physical evidence: Davis's fingerprints were not found on critical pieces of evidence, such as the cash he allegedly paid to the McCrory. Unlike the first trial, Davis testified in his own defense. He stated that he had not solicited McCrory's offer to kill Priscilla and the judge, and claimed it was a plot orchestrated by her to frame him. Davis claimed he merely played along with the plot in an attempt to eventually convince McCrory to admit that Priscilla was to blame for the entire scheme.
Unlike the first trial where observers were convinced that David would likely be acquitted, opinion was split in the second trial with the general consensus being that Davis's best hope was a hung jury. After a lengthy trial Davis was acquitted a second time.
According to truTV, Davis lost most of his oil fortune in the recession of the 1980s, and eventually declared bankruptcy. Cullen and Karen Davis sold their home and 300-acre (120 ha) property to a real estate developer in 1984. Davis continues to live in the Fort Worth area, while his wife Karen died of organ failure on September 22, 2016. Davis in later life became a born-again Christian, and at one point worked with controversial televangelist James Robison.
In books and television
In books, the case has been addressed in:
- Blood Will Tell: The Murder Trials of T. Cullen Davis, written by Gary Cartwright and published by Harcourt in 1979
- Texas Justice, also written by Gary Cartwright
- Texas vs. Davis, written by Mike Cochran
- The case was covered in a chapter of Creating Language Crimes by Roger Shuy, a linguistics professor who was a witness for the defence in the murder-for-hire case.
On television, the case has been profiled on:
- Texas Justice, a 1995 TV movie based on the Gary Cartwright book of the same name, starring Peter Strauss and Heather Locklear
- TruTV's Dominick Dunne's Power, Privilege and Justice - Oil, Money, and Mystery
- A&E's American Justice
- Investigation Discovery's Behind Mansion Walls, the sixth episode of the first season
- WFAA's McCaa Profiles
- CBS's 48 Hours in an episode titled "Murder in the Mansion".
- Gary Cartwight (1979) Blood Will Tell: The Murder Trials of T. Cullen Davis, Harcourt, ISBN 0151699615
- Stephenson, 1977
- "Millionaires death case acquittal leaves doubts", The Spokesman-Review, November 21, 1977.
- Gary Cartwright. "Rich Man Dead Man", Texas Monthly March 1977.
- Tom Stephenson (1977). Is Priscilla Davis' Story True?, dmagazine.com, March 1977.
- Gary Cartwright. How Cullen Davis Beat the Rap, TexasMonthly.com, May 1979.
- Maidment, Paul (2007-09-14). "All The Money in the World: Criminally Rich". Forbes.com.
- Shuy, Roger W (2001). "Discourse Analysis in the Legal Context", The Handbook of Discourse Analysis (eds. Deborah Schiffrin, Deborah Tannen, and Heidi E. Hamilton). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 438-39.
- "Buying justice". 6 June 2011.