The Killer Inside Him

Page 9 of 9

I received over a dozen letters today from Colorado Christians saying how much they want me dead. (7/20/95)

By all accounts, Davis's last years were suffused with bitter ironies. He finally emerged from his alcoholic fog, only to be plagued by heart troubles and other health problems. (Prison officials, he joked, worked hard to save him so they could kill him.) After he lost forty pounds and his vision blurred, he was diagnosed as diabetic.

He reunited with members of his family, just in time to lose some of them for good. He received news of the death of his father and his favorite brother, as well as a phone call from a son who was in a Texas prison for child abuse. A few months ago came the worst blow of all, the death of a 24-year-old daughter from a brain tumor. "I have never had pain before like that when they said my daughter is dying," he wrote last spring; in his clemency appeal to Romer, he said the loss had finally brought home to him what he'd done to Ginny May's family.

He made a public apology for his crimes, admitting full responsibility for the murder--but that was rebuffed as too little, too late. Although Jim Sunderland, the Jesuit priest and anti-death-penalty advocate who'd counseled Davis for years, insisted that he'd undergone a "very genuine and thorough" spiritual conversion, those who wanted him dead couldn't help but dismiss his claims of having discovered his conscience as a cynical bid for sympathy.

Yet those who saw most of Davis in his final months tended to be impressed by him. He had changed, they say. No longer whining or filling the air with lies, he talked earnestly about life and death. He expressed more concern about how his lawyers were handling their constant defeats than about his own fate; he took solace in the fact that, as the execution date approached, the prison staff was treating him with dignity and respect--"like a human being," he said. He seemed focused on dying a good death.

"Gary, it sounds like these last few years have been a prayer for forgiveness," attorney Vicki Mandell-King told him.

"No," Davis told her, "they've been the answer to my prayers."
He was no longer an eager volunteer for the death penalty; always a follower, he was more like a resigned conscript than anything else. He did agree to make one last videotaped bid for clemency, on the theory that he still might be able to "help people" if he were allowed to live, but it was an oddly low-key appeal.

Shackled and meek, he spoke blandly of the mess he'd made of things--"It's hurt a whole bunch of people, this crime. A whole bunch. On both sides"--and choked up a bit at mention of the recent death of his daughter. When asked what he would do if the governor spared his life, he spoke vaguely about being a cook and spending time with his family, as if the question were too hypothetical to take seriously.

He wasn't his own best advocate. But then, it was important to him that he not be seen as a coward, the kind of man who'd be caught on videotape begging for life--or death. When he found out that Romer had turned him down, he couldn't even be outraged. "I kind of agree with him," he told Mandell-King. "How I've changed does not make up for what I've done."

Nothing could. He'd taken too much from too many people. By his own lights, he poured the poison in his own veins the moment he set out with Becky Fincham to make their wretched fantasy come true, and nothing he'd done since could take that moment back. His final victim was himself.

The day after he learned that Romer had denied him clemency, Davis found time to write a final letter to his friend:

Well, the bomb has blown up on my life. Can't really believe it's going to happen. If I forget later down the road, I want to thank you for your support...I need to close this and get started on a stack of mail six inches deep. I can't say goodbye, so I'll say see you later.

A friend,

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast