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Suspects traveled two paths to trouble


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 12, 1998

TAMPA -- Adam Davis was abandoned by his mother when he was an infant. At 15, the father he idolized was killed in a motorcycle crash. At 16, he already had an arrest record, and social workers called him "a throw-away child."

Now, at 19, Adam Davis is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend's mother, Vicki Robinson.

Davis' friends describe a troubled but caring youth who would do anything for his friends and his girlfriend, 15-year-old Valessa Robinson.

"Adam had a hard life," said one friend, Josh Moon, 15. "What kept him sane was Valessa. Adam would do anything for her. They were like a Romeo and Juliet for the '90s."

But despite Davis' string of arrests for crimes ranging from car theft to burglary, his friends say they cannot believe he could be a murderer. They insist that whatever happened at 4221 Cartnal Ave. in the early hours of June 27 was not planned.

"People need to understand that these are not crazy drugged-up teenagers," said Jose Castillo, 18.

Investigators have said all three teens admitted taking part in the killing after they were captured in Texas on July 2. But Davis said Friday that neither he, Whispel nor Valessa did anything to hurt Robinson.

"Me and her mom got along great," Davis told a WFTS-Ch. 28 reporter in a telephone interview. "I would never have a reason to hurt her.

"My greatest fear right now is losing Valessa. We consider ourselves family. She's pretty much all I got right now."

* * *

Adam William Davis was born in Little Rock, Ark., on Dec. 10, 1978, to Kenneth Rory Davis and Tamara Still. Still left the family soon after. Davis, a mechanic, moved to Florida and was the sole parent for Adam until he remarried in 1984 in Pasco County.

He struggled with his willful son, but the bond between father and son appears to have been strong.

"My father and I were really close, more like best friends," Adam Davis said in the television interview. "He was a good man, and I just want to be like him."

On Jan. 6, 1994, Ken Davis was killed when the motorcycle he was riding crashed into a guardrail on an exit ramp from the Crosstown Expressway in Tampa. An autopsy showed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.24, three times the legal limit, and found traces of benzodiazepines -- a class of depressants that includes Xanax, Valium and Halcion, which should not be taken with alcohol.

Adam Davis got a tattoo of a cross on his right arm to honor his father. It reads, "In memory of K.D."

Davis' life deteriorated after his father's death. "I went through a real bad depression stage," he said. "I was using a lot of drugs to escape."

A little more than a year after Ken Davis died, Health and Rehabilitative Services in Pasco County picked up a homeless Adam Davis, then 16, and placed him in foster care. According to an HRS report, Davis had been abandoned again, this time by his stepmother, Donna Elliott Davis, and her family.

The Elliotts told HRS officials they had tried everything to help Davis. He had lived with his stepmother and two stepuncles, Steve and Tom Elliott, but had stolen cars and money and run away from them.

Steve Elliott said that Davis was "a loose cannon" at the time. "There was a bunch of people that loved him," Elliott said. "We just don't know what happened."

After Davis was arrested in both Pasco and Hillsborough counties in 1995 for stealing cars, a judge appointed a guardian to represent him because he was on his own at 16.

In December 1995, Davis appeared in a Pasco County court for sentencing on one of the car theft charges. The judge decided that Davis should be sent to Oregon to live with his mother, Tamara, whom he hadn't spoken with since he was 13.

Davis spent the next 11/2 years with his mother. Davis' friends say that although he raved about his father, he never mentioned his mother. "He didn't like talking about his past," Josh Moon said, but he added that Davis told his friends he straightened out in Oregon and even went to church.

Oregon records show that on March 1, 1997, Davis was charged with burglary in Lincoln County, on the central coast of the state, after he broke into a business and stole money. Three weeks later, he was arrested again, this time for stealing a motorcycle. Davis got 18 months probation for both charges.

In early June, his probation officer reported that Davis had vanished. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Davis next showed up in Rapid City in western South Dakota. His mother's sister, Tara Ghost, lived there in a trailer park, and Davis moved in with her.

John Ingalls, the trailer park's manager, remembers Davis. "Adam was a little wild," he said. "You had to watch him. Tara tried to discipline him, but it didn't do much good."

Ingalls said around the end of July 1997, Davis disappeared in his aunt's car. He resurfaced in Tampa.

For a few weeks, Davis lived with the family of Shana Clark, an old girlfriend. Clark recalls how poorly Davis slept. "He used to wake up crying," she said. "He didn't like to talk about it."

On Aug. 5, Davis talked a friend, Robert Stacy, into standing lookout while he stole beer, liquor and money from a Beverage King on Waters Avenue in Tampa. In a statement to the Sheriff's Office, Stacy said, "Adam Davis thought of breaking into the drive-through. I didn't want to, but he said yes."

Three days later, Clark came home to find her family's house surrounded by police cars. They had come to arrest Davis for the Beverage King robbery, and he would not come out of the house.

"He was saying that if they didn't let him talk to me, he would kill himself with a kitchen knife," Clark said. "That's when I noticed he was a little psychotic."

Davis spoke to Clark, then surrendered to police. Davis spent a couple of weeks in jail.

Clark said she cut off contact with Davis after that day. "He's a really troubled person," she said. "He's always needed someone to be there for him to love him."

Soon, Davis met Valessa Robinson, who was then 14.

"Me and Valessa, it's like one of those things when you're young and you wish you could meet somebody who's perfect for you," Davis said in the WFTS-Ch. 28 interview. "The way I feel about Valessa is, she's perfect for me. She's my soul mate."

Davis appears to have been living an itinerant existence. In October, he and Jon Whispel were arrested on charges of breaking into a vacant house at 8318 Drycreek Drive in Tampa. Police said the two boys had been living in the house. Davis was sentenced to probation.

Davis' relationship with Valessa deepened as this year progressed. Friends said Valessa was trying to get pregnant, and the two planned to run away and get married.

"They were leaving at the end of the summer," Moon said. "Adam had gotten both of them new birth certificates, new identities. They were going to go to Las Vegas and get married."

For Davis, getting married to Valessa and having a baby would have given him what he says he always wanted -- a family and a place to belong.

"We did want to get married for the past six months now," Davis said Friday. "One day we will get married. The only thing I want to do is settle down in a normal home and be like my father."

Sometime in the next few days, Adam Davis will return to Tampa to face first-degree murder charges -- a crime punishable by death.
-- Times researcher John Martin and Staff Writer Susan Clary contributed to this report.

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