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March 20, 2012 / Ronald Chapman

The Inspiration

Each night Pitcairn woke long before sunup to a recurring nightmare or in dread anticipation of it. Since 1988 he could count the number of uninterrupted nights on the fingers of two hands. But on this summer’s morning thoughts of the letter he received the previous day roused him from sleep before the nightmare came. The careful script on yellow legal pages mailed in a plain manila envelope clawed at him. It was a lengthy and complicated read, a reflection of the exceedingly deliberate and disturbed mind of the writer. Regardless, the first few paragraphs had seized his attention.

Dear Mr. Pitcairn:

My name is Daniel Davidson. I am a condemned man. When most people think of death row inmates, I’m the one they think of. To them, I’m the worst of the worst, a serial killer responsible for the rape and murder of eight women in three states. I have assaulted several others and stalked and frightened many more. I have never denied what I did and have fully confessed to my crimes. The only issue in my case was, and still is, my mental condition. For years I have been trying to prove that I am suffering from a mental illness that drove me to rape and kill, and that this mental illness made me physically unable to control my actions. As you can imagine, I have met with little success and less sympathy.

So here I sit in my cell in Santa Fe, soon to be returned to death row in Texas, waiting for the judicial system to complete the tedious process that will likely result in my execution. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can envision the hundreds of people who are likely to gather outside the prison gates on that night. I can see them waving placards, drinking and rejoicing, and I can hear their cheers as my death is finally announced.

Who is Daniel Davidson? And what could possibly motivate a clearly intelligent individual, a graduate of Villanova, to commit such horrendous crimes? As you might expect, I have been examined by many psychiatric experts since my arrest. All of them, including the state’s own expert psychiatric witness, diagnosed me as suffering from a paraphiliac mental disorder called “sexual sadism,” which, in the experts’ words, resulted in my compulsion “to perpetrate violent sexual activity in a repetitive way.” These experts also agreed that my criminal conduct was the direct result of uncontrollable sexual impulses caused by my mental illness. The state’s only hope of obtaining a conviction was to inflame the jury’s emotions so that they would ignore any evidence of psychological impairment. In my particular case, that was quite easy to do in Texas, and the state succeeded in obtaining convictions and multiple death sentences. This diversion to New Mexico has only delayed the inevitable.

The urge to hurt women could come over me at any time, at any place. Powerful, sometimes irresistible desires would well up for no apparent reason and with no warning. Even after my arrest — while I was facing capital charges — these urges continued. I remember one day being transported back to the county jail from a court appearance just prior to my trial. I was in the back of a sheriff’s van in full restraints — handcuffs, leg irons, belly chain — when we passed a young woman walking along the road. I cannot begin to describe the intensity of feeling that enveloped me that day. I wanted … no, were it not for the restraints, I would have had her. The situation was both ludicrous and terrifying. (And later, back in my cell, I masturbated to a fantasy of what would have happened.)

Even after I was sentenced to death, the urges persisted. One day, after seeing my psychiatrist, I was being escorted, without restraints, back to my cell by a young female correctional officer. When we got to a secluded stairwell, I suddenly felt this overwhelming desire to hurt her. I knew that I had to get out of that stairwell, and I ran out into the hallway. I’ll never forget how she shouted at me and threatened to write a disciplinary report; she didn’t have a clue. She never knew how close I came to attacking her, and possibly even killing her.

You would think that being sentenced to death and living in a maximum-security prison would curb such urges, but this illness defies rationality. I eventually found some relief. Almost three years after I came to death row, I began weekly injections of an anti-androgen medication called Depo-Provera. Three years later, after some liver function trouble, I was switched to monthly Depo-Lupron injections which I still receive. What these drugs did was significantly reduce my body’s natural production of the male sex hormone — testosterone. For some reason, testosterone affects my mind differently than it does the average male. A few months after I started the treatment, my blood serum testosterone dropped below prepubescent levels. (It’s currently 20; the normal range is 260 to 1,250)  As this happened, nothing less than a miracle occurred. My obsessive thoughts and fantasies began to diminish.  If I had this treatment years ago, who knows how many lives it would have saved, including my own.

Having those thoughts is a lot like living with an obnoxious roommate. You can’t get away because they’re always there. What the Depo-Lupron does for me is to move that roommate down the hall to his own apartment. The problem is still there, but it’s easier to deal with because it isn’t always intruding into my everyday life. The medication has rendered the “monster within” impotent and banished him to the back of my mind. And while he can still mock me on occasion, he no longer controls me.

One thing is surely true: There are other “Daniel Davidsons” out there. It’s easy to point a finger at me, to call me evil and condemn me to death. But if that is all that happens, it will be a terrible waste. Tragic murders such as those I committed can be avoided in the future, but only if society stops turning its back, stops condemning, and begins to acknowledge and treat the problem. Only then will something constructive come out of events that took the lives of eight women, left their families and friends bereaved, resulted in my incarceration and probable execution, and caused untold shame and anguish to my own family. I have read your columns and think you’ll understand what I am saying. The past has already happened. It’s up to you to change the future.


Daniel Davidson

As a freelance journalist and columnist for the local afternoon newspaper, the Albuquerque Chronicle, Pitcairn often received unsolicited mail. In this case, he immediately recognized the name of Daniel Davidson. He knew all about the case. Davidson was convicted for the murder of four of his six Texas victims after protracted delays for psychiatric evaluation. During that time, the state of Oklahoma had opted not to prosecute him for the murder of a seventh victim. But after those many lengthy delays, he was remanded to the custody of the state of New Mexico for trial in the murder of a seventeen-year-old Santa Fe high school girl.

That final proceeding was notorious for ending without a conviction two weeks before. Unlike the Texans, this jury had bought the psychological evidence.  Their decision was greeted with derision and accusations of racism from the northern New Mexican, Hispanic community to which the young woman belonged. The police had to quell a near riot. Now Davidson was to be returned to Texas to await execution.


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