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Mama's Boy
Leigh Montville
September 28, 1998
Growing up with five older brothers and an ex-con father made TERRELL DAVIS tough. But it took a remarkable mother to give him the strength to transform himself from aimless delinquent to Super Bowl MVP
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September 28, 1998

Mama's Boy

Growing up with five older brothers and an ex-con father made TERRELL DAVIS tough. But it took a remarkable mother to give him the strength to transform himself from aimless delinquent to Super Bowl MVP

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In March 1991 Bobby attempted to rob a woman named Maria Flores outside a San Diego check-cashing office. She had cashed a welfare check for $378, and the money was stuffed inside a purse that Bobby tried to pull from her arms. She pulled it back. He was holding a gun on her. The gun went off. Maria Flores dropped to the ground, a bullet in her chest. Although her wound was not fatal, she was at least five months pregnant at the time, and the baby she was carrying did not survive. Bobby was charged with, among other offenses, murder of a fetus.

Even Kateree had not imagined anything this bad. She sat in the courtroom and couldn't believe what she heard. Murder. "You hear them talking about your son, and you say, This can't be the same person I know," she says. "He's 19 years old."

The case would change California law. The issue was the viability of the fetus. Was the fetus a person, even if it was still within the time limit for a legal abortion and probably wouldn't have been able to survive outside the womb? Pro-choice groups took one side. Antiabortion groups took the other. The botched armed robbery by Terrell's brother became part of one of the 20th century's perpetual debates.

Bobby was found guilty of murder of a fetus, robbery and assault with a deadly fire arm and sentenced to life without parole. Terrell sat with Reggie and their mother in the courtroom as the sentence was read. "The life went out of me," Kateree says. "The feeling started at the top of my head and drained right to my feet. I cried for two days."

The verdict was appealed. Bobby's lawyer was Jeffrey Thoma, who was then with the San Diego public defender's office. He liked Bobby, thought he was a confused kid who had done a terrible thing but hadn't set out to murder anyone, certainly not a five-month-old fetus. Thoma also liked Bobby's mother. He said he'd had "about 20,000 clients, and Kateree Davis stood out from all of them. Her smile. Her spirit. Her devotion to her son." Thoma took the case all the way to the California Supreme Court.

The essence of the appeal was that the judge had given unfair instructions to the jury. The judge had directed the jurors to find Bobby guilty of murder if the fetus possibly, not probably, could have lived outside the womb. That one word meant everything. Possibly? Almost anything is possible. The verdict had to be guilty.

Three of the jurors had been so distressed by the judge's instructions that they went to the Supreme Court hearings. They talked with Kateree in the hallway, even cried with her one day. The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the murder conviction, ruling by a 6-1 vote that the killing of even a nonviable fetus was a capital crime in California but that this interpretation of the law could not be applied retroactively. Bobby's convictions for robbery and assault with a deadly fire arm still stood, but his sentence was reduced to 11 years in prison; he would be eligible for parole after 5½.

"I talked with Bobby after the ruling," Thoma says. "I told him that he had been given his life back and that he had to do something with it. He understood that."

The case, beginning to end, took more than three years. Meanwhile, back on Latimer Street, Terrell had been following Thoma's advice without having heard it. He had taken back his own life. He had decided to do something with it.

The running back from Georgia carried the ball one time for zero yards in the first exhibition game. He was disappointed. Was that his audition? One carry? Zero yards? See you later?

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