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Jury in Davis trial recommends death

One more vote in his favor likely would spare Adam Davis' life. The judge will consider the jury's recommendation and sentence him Dec. 17.

By SUE CARLTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 6, 1999


TAMPA -- Sitting in the jury box, Anne Gambrell listened to the terrible details of how Vicki Robinson died at the hands of her teenage daughter's boyfriend, Adam Davis.

Vicki Robinson
She heard Davis flatly describe how he used a syringe, then a knife. She heard testimony that Mrs. Robinson's own daughter held her down.

On Friday, after 80 minutes of deliberation, Mrs. Gambrell and 11 other jurors recommended by the slimmest of margins, 7-5, that Davis should die in the electric chair. A 6-6 tie would have been a vote to spare his life.

In the courtroom, Davis, 20, buried his face in his hands when he learned of the vote.

"I knew this was the hardest decision I would ever, ever, ever make in my life," said
photo
Adam Davis hears the jury's recommendation Friday. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]
Mrs. Gambrell, a software company employee with a 6-year-old daughter. "I didn't listen to the radio (Friday) like I usually do every morning. I thought about my life and my child.

"This was not a case that was taken lightly by any of us," she said. She would not say how she voted.

Davis' mother and stepmother, who both testified in an effort to spare his life, wept as they left the courtroom.

"God never said it was right to take another life," said his mother, Tamara Elliott, sobbing. "And taking Adam's isn't going to bring her back."

But friends and family of Mrs. Robinson, a devoted churchgoer who helped feed the homeless, volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and ministered to migrants, said the decision was just.

"I think it shows (the jurors) respected Vicki, and she didn't deserve what happened," said her brother Tom Klug.

What happened inside Mrs. Robinson's comfortable Carrollwood home on a June night in 1998 stunned the community.

Davis was an aimless teenager who took drugs and racked up a string of petty arrests. He was dating Mrs. Robinson's troubled and defiant daughter, Valessa, and vowed they would not be separated.

With their friend, Jon Whispel, they cooked up a plan over LSD at a local Denny's to murder Mrs. Robinson, according to testimony.

photo
Donna Davis, stepmother of Adam Davis, wipes away tears Friday in court. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]
On the witness stand, Whispel described how Davis first wanted to overdose her with heroin and later settled for injecting Mrs. Robinson with laundry bleach, thinking an air bubble might kill her. Whispel said Davis grabbed her around the neck, choked her and plunged the needle into her neck. Whispel testified that Valessa Robinson straddled her mother to help hold her down.

Davis later confessed to detectives that he used a knife to stab Mrs. Robinson while he was "raging" on LSD. The teens stuffed her body in a plastic garbage can and dumped it in the woods.

After days of staying in cheap motels, partying in Ybor City, getting tattoos and living off Mrs. Robinson's credit cards, the three fled the state in her minivan. They were caught several days later in Texas.

Most members of the six-man, six-woman jury had children themselves, said juror Sally Millican.

"You kind of have to say, "But for the grace of God go I,' " said Mrs. Millican, a nurse.

According to testimony, Mrs. Robinson had tried to help Davis, getting him a job, taking him on errands, even feeding him.

"Why? Why the senseless murder of my sister?" said her brother Kirt Klug. "My sister was nice to him."

photo
Deborah Sartor-Englert, a close friend of the victim, reads a statement on the stand. [Times photo: Tony Lopez]
Davis did not testify in his trial, and the jury convicted him of first-degree murder Thursday after two hours of deliberation. That led to Friday's court hearing.

His lawyer, Rick Terrana, argued for a life sentence, telling the jury that Davis should be treated no differently than his fellow defendants. Valessa Robinson, 15, also charged with first-degree murder, cannot face a death sentence because of her age. Whispel got a plea deal for 25 years in prison in return for his testimony.

Terrana said a life term would be no easy sentence and told the jury the horrors of prison are "waiting to consume young men like Adam Davis."

But prosecutor Shirley Williams reminded jurors of how Mrs. Robinson suffered in the cold, calculated attack.

At least one juror wiped away tears as Mrs. Robinson's friends and family read statements about her sunny nature, her willingness to volunteer, her devotion to church and family.

"Goodbye, sweet Vicki," brother Tom Klug read from a letter by his parents, his voice breaking.

By law, Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway must give the jury's death recommendation great weight at Davis' sentencing hearing, scheduled for Dec. 17.

Valessa Robinson's trial, scheduled to begin Dec. 13, will be more difficult to handle, say Mrs. Robinson's friends and family.

"Maybe today some of the reality will finally hit her," said Mrs. Robinson's boyfriend, Jim Englert.

After the decision in Davis' case, Mrs. Robinson's 74-year-old mother, Donna Klug, stood with the throngs of lawyers and family members, clutching three framed pictures of her daughter tightly to her chest.

"It's sad that something happened to this boy," Mrs. Klug said. "But when you think about my daughter, nothing will bring her back."

She said that during the long week of trial, she thought constantly of her daughter. When a reporter asked what things she thought about, she paused. Her eyes filled with tears.

"Do you have children?" she asked.

-- Times Staff Writers Anne Hull and Tom French contributed to this report.

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