His epic crime spree left two people dead, one cop wounded, and six bullets in his body. And all David Scott Daniels really wanted to do was die.
Through murky layers of memory and medication, a distant, dim light flickers on the surface. David Scott Daniels floats upward, toward this light, rewinding through horror show images of violence and mayhem.
A shotgun discharges into his chest from point-blank range. A Tec 9 automatic pistol in his hand sprays a hail of lead at the face of a startled police officer. Black smoke roils from a Plymouth Breeze engulfed in flames. A young man lies dying on a cold, bloody linoleum floor, a bullet hole in his forehead.
David Scott Daniels rises through these images, ot comprehending their meaning, unaware that he has been unconscious and near-death for the past two weeks. It is mid-January, 2000.
He opens his eyes. Surgical tubing snakes from a suspended bag of fluid to the needle in the crook of his arm. Electronic monitoring equipment whirs and beeps about him. He is in a hospital room. A UC Davis Medical Center nurse stands over him. He realizes she is speaking to him. He does not know that he has been shot 14 times in a shootout with Sacramento police. He does not know that Sgt. Steven Weinrich, the police officer he shot, is alive thanks to a badge and a bulletproof vest. He does not know that a young woman, LaTanya McCoy, died in the flaming Plymouth after the stolen car he was driving crashed into it at the end of a high-speed police pursuit.
All he knows is that he is alive.
It’s the last thing he wants to be.
LaTanya McCoy’s death on January 2, 2000, marked the end of a two-month long crime spree by Daniels that included ten bank robberies, a score of convenience store stickups, a handful of car-jackings and the shooting death of LeWayne Carolina during a drug robbery. A five-time convicted felon, for offenses ranging from burglary to possession of narcotics, Daniels, 33, has spent half his adult life behind bars. His main problem is that he likes to get high. Extremely high. His drug-of-choice is crack cocaine.
As the days pass by in the dull, gray blur of hospital time, he learns the full extent of the damage he has caused and endured. He is formally charged with two counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and multiple counts of robbery—charges that could earn him the death penalty. Uniformed guards keep a constant bedside vigil. Six bullets remain lodged in his body. His left arm hangs limp and useless due to nerve damage from one of his gunshot wounds. His left pectoral muscle is a mass of bloody pulp from the shotgun blast. His left thigh is a mangled mess. There’s a 40-calibre hole in his stomach. Every bone in his body aches. The only thing he doesn’t have is a headache. Which is good, because he’s been thinking.
The deaths of McCoy and Carolina haunt him, and a nagging question keeps rising to the surface. Was it worth it? The lives of two people. All to chase the high, the good time.
He hates anything that reminds him he is alive. A shiver, a kink in his neck. He asks for an extra blanket and pillow. When one doesn’t materialize, he throws a cup of apple juice across the room at one of the guards and it splatters on the guard’s pant leg. Daniels knocks down an IV stand. The guard places Daniels’ one good arm in a wrist lock to prevent him from tearing out his IV lines and catheter.
“Fuck all you mother fuckers!” Daniels screams. “You want to break my wrist mother fucker, go ahead! You all want to get down, we can get down my way, with 50 calibers and machine guns! I will finish this! I will kill the first mother fucker I see! We can do this my way!”
Why couldn’t they let me die, he wonders. He is tired, worn down and was so, long before his shootout with the police. He’s had a dozen second chances to straighten up his life, and he’s blown every one of them.
He is depressed for the next five months. “I’m all alone and no one can see what I’m really going through,” he writes in a letter to one of his girlfriends. “I cry to myself when no one else is listening. I cry every night. I suffer in silence.”
Then he discovers a solution to his suffering. He breaks the silence. He talks nonstop to anyone and everyone who will listen, confessing his crimes to prisoners, guards, attorneys, newspaper reporters. People get sick of talking to him, he talks so much. He writes detailed accounts of robberies in letters that are never sent because they are confiscated by authorities to be used as evidence against him. That doesn’t bother him, because if there is one thing he reasons from all of this talking, it’s that he is not going to fight the charges against him, even though he is facing the death penalty.
I am not going to sit here and humiliate the victims’ families, my family and myself in front of everyone, he thinks. Why should I hide behind the system, when the system is prosecuting me for something I know that I did?
The system, for Daniels, is the network of police, courts, jails and prisons he has fought against most of his life. “All them punk ass police I shot, I wish I would have shot every one!” he wrote in the same letter quoted above. Killing LeWayne Carolina and LaTanya McCoy has caused him much grief. But shooting Sgt. Steven Weinrich has caused him little because, in his view, the officer is just another cog in the system.
Yet it is to this very same system to which he now decides to completely and irrevocably surrender himself. In June, he withdraws the innocent plea placed by his court-appointed attorneys. In December, Judge James L. Long grants him the right to dismiss his public defenders and represent himself. He waives his right to a jury and the case goes to trial on January 15, 2001. On January 31, after one of the shortest death penalty trials in Sacramento County history, Judge Long sentences David Scott Daniels to die by lethal injection.
The man behind the visiting glass in the Sacramento County Main Jail hardly looks or acts like a cold-blooded killer, someone who has earned society’s harshest punishment. His big brown eyes are lucid and expressive; he is genuinely flattered that anyone could possibly still be interested in him. As he tells his entire story, he is thoughtful, articulate and remarkably candid. He does not consider himself a killer.
“There’s a big difference between a killer and someone who has killed somebody,” he says. “If you kill somebody with intent, then you’re a killer. What I did, it just happened. I don’t think I deserve to die—but there have to be consequences for what I did, and if the system says that it is death … oh, well.”
But there also may be a big difference between what Daniels says he deserves and what he truly wants. He doesn’t think he deserves to die. But does he want to die? To present no defense in a capital case—as Daniels did—is tantamount to committing state-assisted suicide. Some people who know him say he has a death wish, a claim he vigorously denies. “I don’t have a death wish. I’m not suicidal and I don’t have suicidal thoughts.”
But that hasn’t always been the case.
Late in 1994, David Scott Daniels called Freeman Jones, his half-brother, from the Golden Gate Bridge. There are only two reasons to visit the famous landmark. Freeman knew his brother wasn’t there to see the sights.
“I love you Freeman!” Daniels cried.
“Stay there! I’ll be right there!”
They grew up together, lived in practically every project in the city. Potrero Hill. The Fillmore. The Tenderloin. Hunter’s Point. They had different fathers but shared the same mother who, as much as she could, tried to keep the boys together in an extended family that included 12 other siblings. Like most brothers they fought a lot, but they bonded. They started doing drugs at about the same age, and both boys spent time in juvenile hall. Although Freeman was older by a year, Daniels matured faster. By the time he was 18, he had cemented his reputation on the street as a player, a 6-foot-2, easy on the eyes, smooth-talking ladies’ man.
His cocaine cocktail cigarettes were already legendary: $20 of rock busted up and laced into a Marlboro or a Newport. He’d light one up, puff on it until the cocaine started melting real good, then hand it to Freeman for the best hit. It was like syrup on pancakes.
Freeman tried to keep pace, but he lacked Daniels’ ability to do drugs and function at the same time. Daniels could take a few puffs off a cocktail, set it down, then hit the streets, cruising for chicks. Freeman, on the other hand, smoked until it was gone, then he’d start combing the carpet, searching for errant crumbs of cocaine. He called himself the King Crack Crawler. After he realized that women were continually smoking his rock up and refusing to provide sexual favors, he turned to porno mags, so he could smoke alone and masturbate. When he realized that his clothes were hindering the process, he shed them, and smoked crack buck-ass naked. He awakened like that one day in 1989, the pages of the magazine all glued together, and got a good look at himself. Humbled, he prayed. He hasn’t smoked crack, or taken a drink or any other drug, since.
Freeman was used to bailing his brother out; he figured that sooner or later his brother would see the light. But, by 1994, Daniel’s pattern was carved in rock. He periodically tried to go straight. Then he started smoking crack again, winding up back in jail or prison. Held behind bars he dried out, got back in shape and, upon his release, did it all over again.
He tried to do right by his childhood sweetheart, Yolanda Petway, and their three sons. Daniels earned his commercial truck driving license in 1990, and made good money driving big rigs, but something would always bring him down. The kids needed food. The rent had to be paid. Yolanda needed medicine. It was depressing. So he smoked crack. It made him feel good at first, but the comedown left him even more depressed. So he smoked more. The cycle would escalate until he couldn’t take it anymore, physically or mentally, and inevitably he pulled some stupid stunt. Once, he shot a second bottle rocket at a passing SFPD paddy wagon, after they’d let him go the first time, just so he could get thrown in jail and sober up.
But that day out on the Golden Gate was different. Daniels had reached the end of the line. Released from Avenal State Prison in August, he was hooked on crack and heroin in a matter of months. The kids were hungry, the money was gone, he was miserable and ashamed. He walked out to the middle of the bridge and stood there for hours, looking over the rail at the rippled green water below. Change seemed impossible. He wanted to die, but he couldn’t bring himself to jump. He stayed out on the bridge until 9 p.m., when it closes to pedestrian traffic. Then he walked to the San Francisco side and called Freeman. You can beat this thing, you can get past this thing, he told himself. Cars and trucks roared by overhead. Far below, the surf pounded the shore invisibly. Freeman found him standing in the grassy area under the bridge, near the edge of a cliff overlooking the bay, staring out into the blackness.
“Let’s go,” Freeman said.
With his brother’s encouragement, Daniels enrolled in Walden House, a long-term, live-in drug treatment program. The thing was, Walden House requires its residents to get real, and Daniels doesn’t do reality all that well. There were no drugs in the recovery home, but there were plenty of women. Love is a drug of sorts, and most treatment programs recommend that recovering addicts not enter any new relationships during the first year of sobriety. After five months at Walden House, Daniels had entered several. Two days after he was asked to leave the program, he was back on the street, high on crack cocaine. Six months later, in Stockton, he slashed up his wrists with a straight razor. He lived.
California’s Three Strikes Law went into effect in 1994. Designed to punish violent criminals who have two or more previous felonies with longer prison sentences, individual counties are given a wide degree of latitude in applying the statute. In San Francisco County, none of the four felonies Daniels committed before 1994 would probably count as a strike. In Sacramento County, which has taken a stricter approach to the law, it’s conceivable that all four would count as strikes. Daniels learned about this sentencing disparity the hard way, in a Sacramento courtroom while being convicted for his fifth felony in 1998.
After recovering from his first real suicide attempt, Daniels moved to Sacramento to train with Unisource, a national shipping and receiving company, in 1995. The money was good, the women plentiful, success seemed to finally be his. So why not celebrate? He started smoking crack again, and by 1996, he had quit his job and moved to San Jose to live off unemployment. He wandered back to Sacramento a year later, and promptly got busted for shoplifting two Nike jackets at Sunrise Mall. The charge was upgraded to second degree burglary, and the County offered him a deal: plead out and do 33 months in Solano State Prison, or go to trial and face the possibility of being struck out.
The possibility of 25 years to life.
Daniels took the 33 months and wound up serving 17. He spent the entire time terrified of the prospect that he was going to get out, only to be sent back to prison for the rest of his life. He knew he couldn’t handle life in prison; he’d rather die first. But he couldn’t handle life on the outside, either. Not without drugs, and the drugs always led back to prison. The choice was simple. The drugs had to go.
In July 1999, he was paroled to the Oak Park home of one of his girlfriends, Jennifer O’Neal. Daniels tried hard to establish a normal routine to keep busy and stay off the streets. Every morning, he rode the red Schwinn 10-speed he had picked up for $70 at a garage sale to CalJOBS, where he searched for jobs on the Internet. It took an hour to get there. At noon he attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. At the end of the day, he pedaled back to Oak Park in 100-degree heat. Within a week, he found a job listing for a warehouse shipping and receiving clerk in Rancho Cordova. He pedaled an hour east on Folsom Boulevard to reach Vince’s Moving Service.
It was the last real chance he would ever get.
Daniels’ brown correctional shoes gave him away immediately, but Vince Winslow didn’t care. Vince believed in second chances. Eight years previous, Vince had come to beneath an overpass in Sparks, an empty bottle of Night Train in his hand, puke down the front of his shirt, shit in his pants and four winos sprawled around him. He hasn’t taken a drink or a drug since. From nothing, he built a small empire, a moving business with warehouses, tractor-trailers and bobtail trucks. Sobriety has its rewards, including a shiny, new Mercedes Benz. If anybody could have shown Daniels the ropes, it was Vince.
But Daniels didn’t want to talk about prison or drugs or his problems. He was too ashamed. He got up at 4 a.m. so he’d have enough time to pedal from Oak Park to Rancho Cordova. He worked hard, and Vince took the mild-mannered ex-con under his wing, as much as Daniels would let him. Not long after he was hired, five or six different women began calling everyday, asking for Daniels. Vince was amazed. The guy was a chick magnet. And a natural for the moving business. He began sending Daniels out with his more experienced moving crews. The job paid $12 an hour, more than enough to make a good start. Daniels was getting it together. I’m going to make it, he thought. Why not celebrate?
The night after he received his third paycheck from Vince, he walked to the corner store and picked up a four-pack of Jack Daniels Country Cocktails, Blackberry Jack. He drank it down and stayed up all night, pleasantly buzzed. The next night, Friday, he bought another four-pack after work. Then he went down to Broadway and bought a $50 rock. He rented a room at the Deville Hotel, just off the main drag. He broke the rock up and sprinkled some of it in a Newport cigarette.
I’ll do just a little, he thought.
He lit up, inhaled the sweet smoke, and the misery of his wretched existence, the stress of 25 years to life, the humiliation of riding the red Schwinn all over town, melted like ice cream on a hot summer day. Everything was right with the world. Almost everything. He went back out on Broadway and picked up a hooker. It was a beautiful evening. He crashed Saturday, Sunday, Monday. On Tuesday he told Vince he was quitting.
“I’ve got to go away for a couple of months, I’m having problems,” he said.
“Do you need any help?” Vince asked. “I’ll help you, I don’t care what it is.”
“No. I’ll handle it on my own.”
That night he bought a $100 rock and picked up another hooker. On the garish bedspread in the dimly lit room, they smoked cocaine cocktail cigarettes and had sex. It was another beautiful evening.
In the morning, he went to a temporary agency to get work. The agencies paid more than Vince, and there was overtime. He began working 16-hour days and buying larger amounts of crack, eighth-ounces for $600. The beautiful evenings blurred into one long beautiful month. He quit picking up hookers and smoked crack by himself in his room at the Deville while Kenny G., George Benson and the Jazzmasters played on the radio. It was soothing. He needed soothing. On November 8, his 32nd birthday, drunk out of his mind, he realized it was over. Everything he had hoped to avoid was coming to pass. It was only a matter of time before he screwed up and was sent back to prison forever.
I should kill myself now and get it over with, he thought. But for the moment, he was having too much fun. So he made a pact with himself. I am not going back to prison for the rest of my life, he promised. This time things are going to end the way I want them to end. I am not going to be taken alive.
Somehow, he kept working after that. Most of his money went toward booze, crack and motel rooms, but he managed to set some aside to buy a car, so he wouldn’t have to ride the dreaded bicycle. He cashed his last paycheck on November 25 and bought a Honda Civic. Then he celebrated, drinking and smoking crack through the night. By six the next morning, he was out of booze, crack and money. He went to a corner store in Oak Park and met a friend who was equally broke. The friend had a bottle of Remy Martin and, over drinks, Daniels told him he had an idea.
“Let’s rob a bank,” he said.
Shortly before 2 p.m. on November 26, 1999, David Scott Daniels walked into the Bank of America at the corner of Florin and Stockton wearing a long trench coat and a baseball cap. His right hand, jammed deep in a coat pocket, held only a screwdriver wrapped in black electrician’s tape. He handed the teller at till No. 7 a note instructing him to give him all the money in the drawer.
“I’ll blast you,” Daniels emphasized.
It was the easiest $800 he ever made.
It was so easy, he knew right then he’d be doing it again and again.
But what he needed was some real firepower. He stole a small handgun from one of his relatives and, on November 29, he pulled his first armed robbery, at the Circle K on Alhambra and P Street. The next day, he hit a Rite Aid on Freeport Boulevard. The high from the stickups was almost as good as smoking crack. Robbery became a reflex. On December 1 he was hungry, so he stopped at a Subway Sandwich shop on Mack Road to eat. Might as well rob the place, too. On December 6, he robbed a bank in Yuba City.
Flush with money, Daniels never ran out of crack now. He always had at least a half-ounce in his possession, lacing up two or three cigarette packs at a time, smoking them one after another, taking up permanent residence in a numb, hyperactive landscape populated by nude, brazen females. His popularity with the ladies was never higher. In between getting loaded and getting laid, Daniels added new weapons to his arsenal. A Tec 9 semi-automatic pistol, converted to full automatic. An AK-47. With a shoestring, he fashioned a lanyard for the Tec 9, hung it around his neck so he could pull the weapon out from under his jacket and fire it at a second’s notice. He was not going to be taken alive.
On December 11, he hit a Washington Mutual Bank in Stockton for $12,000. His face was now being shown on TV and in the newspapers, so he rented an apartment in Stockton and hid out with one of his girlfriends. It wasn’t just about crack anymore. It was about the adrenaline rush. It was about the money. He went to Macy’s and bought the clothes he’d always wanted—Calvin Klein jeans, silk shirts, a lambskin leather jacket. He bought $100 bottles of cognac, ate dinner at Red Lobster every night and breakfast at IHOP every morning. He bought a white ’95 Z-28 with a T-top.
On December 23, he hit a Bank of America in Manteca for a modest sum. On the morning of December 28, he hit a Bank of the West in Citrus Heights for $7,500. It was another big score and, to celebrate, he hooked up with some women in Oak Park and smoked crack and drank Remy Martin all day.
At nine that evening, Daniels, Jennifer O’Neal, O’Neal’s 10-year-old daughter, a woman named Marcie, and an unidentified young man and woman drove out to an apartment complex off Mack Road in south Sacramento, where the young man told Daniels they could buy some marijuana. Daniels backed into a parking spot behind the second-story apartment, then he and the young man went up. Inside, Tamara Hillian sat in a chair in the corner of the living room. A man sat on a couch to her left. LeWayne Carolina, 23, who, like Daniels, had been released from prison that summer, was in the kitchen, talking on the telephone. Marijuana and money were in plain sight.
Daniels’ robbery reflex kicked in.
He sent the unidentified young man out to the car, then asked to use the bathroom. He pulled the Tec 9 out from under his jacket, cocked it, and stepped back into the living room.
“You mother fuckers need to brake yourselves!” he shouted. Then someone punched him in the back. Three times. Pop. Pop. Pop. Daniels turned. LeWayne Carolina stood in the kitchen with a 380 handgun. He’d shot Daniels three times, twice in the back and once in the left arm. Daniels, falling, swung the machine pistol around to his right and pulled the trigger. A fusillade of bullets sprayed across the room. One pierced a corner of the refrigerator, and lodged in LeWayne Carolina’s skull. He flopped to the floor like a crash test dummy.
Tamara Hillian started screaming.
“Shut your mouth, bitch, or I’m going to shoot you!”
She didn’t shut her mouth, so he shot her in the leg. She screamed louder.
The man on the couch escaped during the mêlée by jumping out the bedroom window. Daniels staggered out the front door and down the steps. He slipped going down and hit his head, sliding all the way to the bottom. He laid there for a moment, looking up at the dark Sacramento night, listening to Tamara Hillian screaming. I wish I had never come here, he thought. I wish I had never entered this house.
Daniels drove west on Mack Road to his cousin Martina Daniels’ house. He fell to his knees on the kitchen floor as women and children screamed around him. I must not panic, he thought. I must remain calm. He felt the blood leaking out of him. A lot of blood. He felt drowsy. The women tried to move him. I’m dying, he thought. Leave me alone. He refused to be taken to the hospital. One of the women, Lavette Jackson, used hydrogen peroxide and Q-tips and dug one of the bullets out of his back. The other bullet was too deep. She bandaged his wounds with bath towels. Then she asked him if he would drive her and her two children to Fresno, to drop the kids off with relatives. Sure, he said, but they had to go out to the Ramada Inn and pick up the Camaro.
Lavette got behind the wheel of the white Z-28 first, but she wasn’t driving fast enough for Daniels, so he took over. He smoked crack and drank Remy Martin all the way to Fresno. They dropped the kids off, then Daniels decided to rob a Walgreen’s.
“Gimme the money,” he said, shoving the Tec 9 in the face of the Hispanic woman behind the counter. He looked more than a little peaked.
“No,” she said.
“Are you crazy?” he said. “Are you out of your fucking mind? This ain’t your fucking money! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she said.
Exasperated, he left, without the money, and pointed the Camaro north on Highway 99. The cops gave chase just outside of Merced. High on crack and cognac, still bleeding from gunshot wounds received the night before, Daniels pushed the Z-28 as fast as it would go, 165 mph on the speedometer. I am unstoppable, he thought.
He took a side road, and the police fell back behind him. He hit a curve outside of Turlock with way too much speed. The car became airborne. When he came to, the Camaro was upside down in a vineyard across from a country western bar. He could hear sirens in the distance. A small crowd gathered as Daniels, knocked loopy, pulled himself out of the wreckage. The hood of the car was nearly torn off. Lavette was walking around, clutching the bottle of Remy Martin in a brown paper bag. A man tried to take it from her. Daniels pointed the Tec 9 at him. The man backed away. A woman pulled up in another late-model white Camaro to offer assistance.
“Scoot over,” Daniels said, waving the gun in her direction. She got out instead.
Lavette got in the car and Daniels ripped a half-donut to point the car north. In Turlock, he stopped for gas. A local squad car spotted the Camaro and circled the station. As Daniels pulled out, the police car quickly closed up, lights flashing. Daniels accelerated through rush hour traffic, hitting 80 mph, weaving between cars and running stop lights. Another police car joined the chase. Daniels ran the light at the intersection of West Avenue and Main Street and center-punched a black Chevy Tahoe. The Camaro, totaled, spun around 180 degrees and stopped, facing the oncoming police cars. The police are cautious, like matadors feeling out a bull.
This is it, Daniels thought.
Lavette was blue with fright in the passenger seat. It was the end of the ride for her. A cloud of steam hissed out of the smashed radiator. Daniels cocked the Tec 9, got out of the car, walked into the steam cloud, and started firing. Bullets ricocheted off one of the police cars; windshield glass exploded. An officer took cover behind his car. Daniels emptied the whole clip, 32 bullets. The police couldn’t return fire because he was hidden in the steam. He backed away, ran down the block, and jumped a fence, landing in the middle of a crowd of Hispanic people. “I need help, the police are after me!” he said, but no one spoke English. A woman led him to a house down the street. A man was in the garage doing laundry. “I need a car,” Daniels told him. The man looked at the machine pistol cradled in Daniel’s arm and gave him the keys to a Buick Century. Daniels climbed into the Buick and sped off into the night.
No one followed him.
He laid up in Stockton for two days, smoking crack and nursing his wounds, which now included a smashed-in face from the two automobile crashes in addition to three gunshot wounds. Cognac, cocaine and Darvon kept him rolling. On the last day of 1999, Daniels car-jacked a late model silver Camaro. He drove to Sacramento on New Year’s Day. He stopped at Martina Daniels’ first, then he drove to Jennifer O’Neal’s place in Oak Park. The area was teeming with police, so he went to his auntie’s house in Carmichael. Midday, the phone rang. It was for him.
“David, this is Freeman.”
“How the fuck am I supposed to know this is you?”
“Our grandmother’s name is Cleo Russell.”
No one else knew that except Freeman.
“Oh, hey brother, what’s going on?”
From Florida, Freeman had been frantically calling all over Sacramento, trying to locate his brother. He begged Daniels to turn himself in. He organized a four-way conference call between himself, Daniels, their mother and grandmother. It was too much for Daniels. Too many voices. Too little time. He was committed to seeing it through to the end. “Don’t worry,” he told Freeman, feeling the weight of the Tec 9 around his neck. “I’m not alone. I got my posse right here, all 32 of them.”
That night, Daniels went to a girlfriend’s house in Del Paso Heights. She was unaware of the crime spree, and he didn’t offer any information. They drank and smoked crack until five in the morning.
One last beautiful evening.
Then Daniels drove back toward Martina’s. South Sacramento was shrouded in a dense morning fog. The Sacramento police were waiting at Martina’s for him. He turned out his headlights and drove around the block. The police followed him west on to Mack Road. Daniels put the throttle to the floor, and the pursuit was on. He hit 100 mph down the broad double lanes of Mack Road, but he couldn’t lose them. In a last fleeting attempt to escape, he pulled a U-turn at Detroit Avenue, nearly rolling the Camaro. The police stayed on his tail. They roared by the apartment complex where Daniels had killed LeWayne Carolina five nights previously.
I can lose them, he thought. I can still get away.
He never really saw LaTanya McCoy’s Plymouth Breeze. She had just dropped her child off with a relative on her way to work. Traveling at more than 100 mph, the Camaro slammed into the back of the Plymouth, sending it spinning across the road, until it came to a rest on the center divider. Daniels sensed the explosion as the Plymouth’s ruptured gas tank burst into flames and the crumpled Camaro careened off in the opposite direction, coming to rest next to a black wrought-iron fence surrounding an apartment complex.
He was dazed, but Daniels could see and hear everything now. The black smoke roiling off the Plymouth. Police setting up a perimeter around the Camaro, blocking his escape by foot, shouting, “Get your hands up, let us see your hands.” Time passed by in slow motion. He felt drowsy, beaten, yet strangely optimistic. He cocked the Tec 9, then pushed the driver’s side door open and draped his leg out the door. He raised his left arm. The police asked to see the other one, too.
“I’m pinned,” he said.
Sgt. Steven Weinrich, a 20-year veteran of the force, and Lt. John Kane approached Daniels from the rear of the car, using a riot shield for protection. Lt. Kane had a shotgun, Sgt. Weinrich had his revolver drawn, so he could have one hand free to assist the suspect out of the car. “We’re going to get you out of there,” Lt. Kane said over a megaphone.
Daniels was ready. The jagged ups and downs of addiction would be over. No more worrying about 25 to life. All he had to do was pull the trigger.
The two officers crept up slowly, until they were squatting inside the driver’s side door. Daniels didn’t move a muscle. “I’m going to touch him,” Weinrich told Lt. Kane. He reached around the riot shield and inside the car, and Daniels jerked around and blasted with the Tec 9.
The first two bullets tore through the roof. The next two whizzed by Weinrich’s head. One bullet hit him in the chest, piercing his badge and lodging in his bulletproof vest. Another entered his upper left leg. The last thing Daniels saw before the Sacramento Police Department opened fire was the startled face of Sgt. Steven Weinrich.
Then there was nothing.
“A man who is out there with a Tec 9 in his hands knowing that he is going to go to the end until somebody kills him is one of the most dangerous people in our society, because there is no deterrent to this man,” Deputy District Attorney Mark Curry argued in his final summation at Daniels’ trial.
Certainly, David Scott Daniels had proved that.
For his part, Daniels apologized to the victims’ families and answered the question that had been bothering him during his first days in the hospital: the lives of two people. Was it worth it?
“I am not up here to justify or defend myself for any of my wrongdoings,” he said. “I am a man, and I can admit my wrongdoings, my crimes against LeWayne and LaTanya. … I want you to know that I am really sorry and I apologize. Whatever time they give me, it’s not worth the two lives I have taken.”
Otherwise, Daniels remained quiet at the trial, asking no questions of the prosecution’s witnesses and occasionally joking around with Curry. Pointing to a security camera picture of himself holding up a convenience store, Daniels said, “That’s not me!” He left the deputy DA hanging for a second, then leaned back in his chair.
“Yeah it is,” he admitted ruefully.
It’s still a little hard to believe this man behind the visiting glass has taken the lives of two people. He’s too personable, too serene. There’s a reason for that. It’s called surrender. People who have recovered from alcohol and drug addiction will tell you that surrender is one of the most crucial elements in their recoveries. It’s what Freeman did after humiliating himself in that lonely residential motel room. It’s what Vince Winslow did after waking up beaten and soiled beneath a Sparks overpass. It’s what David Scott Daniels did when he finally crossed a line he could not permit himself to cross.
No one can punish him more than he has already punished himself. It is only through complete and total surrender, to the system, to God, to everything, that he can continue to live with himself and what he has done.
For the time being, it has given him peace, this complete and total surrender. His verdict will automatically be appealed, but he doesn’t intend to fight it. Technically, he could be executed in as little as three years. Then again, just eight convicts have been executed in California since capital punishment was reinstated in 1978. The average stay of the men who have been terminated is 14 years, 10 months. There are presently 592 prisoners on Death Row—it could be a while before the state gets around to Daniels. It doesn’t seem to bother him much.
“If it is meant for me to die, then it will happen,” he says. “It’s all up to the system, if they feel it is necessary to kill me, then let them do it. Until then, I’m going to try and have a pretty good time and keep a positive attitude. That’s all I can do.”
Then he limps down the stairs and disappears from our world forever. Soon, he’ll be shipped to San Quentin State Prison, to take his place on Death Row.
He left one question unanswered, David Scott Daniels. Does he want to die? He said that he doesn’t have a death wish, isn’t suicidal, and doesn’t have suicidal thoughts. But then he paused, cocked his head slightly and smiled.
“There’s all kinds of ways of killing yourself,” he said.