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Forced to eat broccoli as a boy? Death row inmate brainstorms his arguments for a new sentence.

Adam Davis was convicted in the brutal stabbing death of his girlfriend's mother. He talks defense strategy in a recent jailhouse discussion with two women.
Published Feb. 7, 2019

TAMPA — One day last summer, Adam Davis, a middle-aged man with brawny, tattooed arms and bearded cheeks, slid into view on a Hillsborough County jailhouse video screen.

Now 40, Davis is hardened from two decades on death row.

But he returns to the days of his youth as he speaks via video with two female visitors, seeking help remembering his troubled childhood, his exposure to drugs, in hopes early bad experiences might reduce his sentence to life in prison.

"Anything I went through as a kid," he pleads.

Davis and his then-girlfriend, Valessa Robinson, once saturated the news in the Tampa Bay area. The teenage couple were convicted — along with a third teen, Jon Whispel — in the vicious 1998 stabbing death of Robinson's mother.

Robinson served 13 years in prison. Whispel, who testified against the other two, gets released later this year. Davis received the death penalty. But his sentence was overturned recently because the jury was split 7-5. The law now requires a unanimous verdict for death.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office recently made public a recording of the video discussion Davis had as he sat in a high-security bay at the Hillsborough County jail, where he was housed last July while awaiting a court hearing.

The recording is among materials prosecutors will use as they seek a new death sentence.

The two women, one older and one younger, are not identified but appear to be close relatives of Davis. In 35 minutes of chat with them, he delves into a misspent youth in search of mitigating factors.

"I want to bring up everything that happened in the past," he says. "It's gonna bring up dirt. And I wanted to warn you." "What do you mean?" the older woman asks.

"Well, like, for instance, when I had to stand in the corner for hours," Davis says. "Or when I sat in the room on restriction and had to sit on the bed."

He mentions a time when he fell asleep and the older woman grabbed him by the hair and spanked him for it.

"I did?" she says.

"Yeah," Davis answers with a laugh.

"I don't remember that at all," she says.

He gives another example of what he says was a traumatic childhood experience.

"You remember when you made me some Velveeta macaroni and cheese and it had broccoli in it? And I hate broccoli. You got mad because I wouldn't eat it. So you made me eat it."

"I don't recall that because I don't eat broccoli," the older woman says. "And I hate broccoli."

"It happened when we lived in a trailer in Pasco County," he says. "I remember it clearly."

As a kid, Davis says, he never understood punishments or why things were wrong.

"We didn't talk a lot about feelings growing up," he says.

But the older woman asserts that they did. She says she tried to teach him by making him listen to songs like Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Davis says he only remembers fragments of his childhood because drugs damaged his memory. He says he "self-medicated" as a teen with methamphetamines. He tells of doing drugs with family members, and living on the streets, and getting in trouble.

"I didn't think about consequences," he says. "Now I think about everything. If I do this, what's going to happen."

He tells the two women to gather anything that might help him. He mentions Boy Scout merit badges he earned and a kindergarten art project.

"Things like that are gonna be helpful," he says.

Toward the end of the visit, Davis reveals that he's married.

Public records show Adam William Davis and Claire Louise Morgan wed in Raiford on Sept. 3, 2010.

He worries that resurfacing his case might bring unwanted attention to his wife.

"It's going to be rough," he says. "But it's necessary."

No date has been set for Davis' re-sentencing.

"I'm in no rush," he says. "I've already had it overturned. So I can sit on death row for five years and I wouldn't care because I don't have a death sentence now.

"And I'm in no hurry to get into a population where I've got to start fighting. ... And I have no choice. I'm a death row inmate and guys are gonna think they have to try their mettle against me."

Once he's off death row, he says, he hopes to find a lawyer to appeal for a new trial. He wants his case to be presented in law schools, for professors to ask their students how they'd win.

"We'll do whatever we can to help you, Adam," the older woman says. "We love you very much."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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