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Chiquita Tate—a rising defense attorney in the Louisiana legal scene—had been working late in February 2009 to prepare for an upcoming murder trial when she tragically became a murder victim herself.
The 34-year-old was stabbed 43 times in a brutal attack at her Baton Rouge law office, and left splayed out on the floor with pieces of long dark hair clutched in her hand.
“She was butchered,” prosecutor Prem Burns told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered” of seeing her one-time courtroom adversary dead in an episode airing Thursday, May 13 at 8/7c.
Tate had clearly met a violent end, but just who had taken the life of the driven and larger-than-life defense attorney who made a name for herself by taking some of the city’s hardest cases?
Tate often represented accused killers, drug dealers and gang members, leading some to believe her killer may have been on her own client roster. Others pointed to Chiquita’s volatile temper and wondered whether the killer had been someone much closer to home.
Tate had a difficult start as one of seven siblings being raised by her grandmother in an impoverished part of town. But she was smart and driven from an early age and became the first in her family to go to college. She continued on to Southern University Law Center and then started clerking at a local law firm while studying for the bar.
“She was talented,” Burns said. “She had overcome so very much in a short time period. She was the star of her family.”
Lessie Hookfin, Tate’s legal assistant, noted she passed the bar on her first try before embarking on a successful legal career.
“She was just driven, wanting to get that next, I’ll call it, that next high and law school was that, being a lawyer was that, and she achieved it,” Hookfin said.
Within several years, Tate had won a $500,000 jury verdict, opened her own law firm in an office just off the Mississippi River and became a formidable force in court.
“She would walk into a courtroom and she looked like she owned the place,” Burns said.
She even seemed to find happiness in her personal life, marrying contractor Greg Davis in small ceremony in 2008, after the couple had met while cruising around town.
But that would all come to a crashing halt on Feb. 19, 2009.
Tate was working late that night preparing her defense for an upcoming double murder trial, but she’d never come home.
Davis tried to call his wife repeatedly before driving to her office the next morning.
“My wife, um, she was working late last night. … But I can’t get inside the building. I need—I need a cop over here quick,” he can be heard saying on a 911 call.
Davis flagged down a nearby officer, who went inside the building and stumbled upon Tate’s bloody body.
Hookfin had just been arriving at work when she heard the tragic news, saying an officer on the street grabbed her “pretty much to hold me up because I was going down and that’s when he told me that she was dead.”
Despite the violent death, investigators found no blood in the elevator or in the lobby. They also found that Tate was still wearing her expensive jewelry, seemingly ruling out a robbery gone wrong, and found no murder weapon at the scene. But there were several clues left behind. Tate was clutching long strands of dark hair—which later were revealed to have come from a weave—in her hand and her wallet was missing.
Davis told authorities he had seen his wife the night she was killed after she called him around 7 p.m. to ask whether he could bring her some food to the office. He brought her some McDonald’s and even recalled helping her with a small errand while he was there.
“Chiquita had a client that was coming over to pick up some money, so he went downstairs to pay this client and pick up some paper work from this person from Chiquita,” Baton Rouge Detective Elvin Howard told “Dateline.”
Davis said he left the office around 8:30 p.m. and returned to their Baker home.
Those who knew the rising star defense attorney were baffled by the heinous murder.
“I actually did not come to any conclusions, because I couldn’t think of a soul who wanted her dead,” Hookfin said.
Davis' family pointed to her client list of accused criminals as possible suspects in the slaying, but Howard said investigators looked into the people she'd represented and found that possibility unlikely.
“It was just very unlikely that someone who she worked so hard for would kill her,” he said.
Others noted Tate’s temper and “extremely aggressive” nature, but again, no obvious suspects stood out.
But when investigators delved deeper into Tate’s home life, they found a troubled marriage on the brink of collapse. Before her death, Tate had reportedly signed a lease for a new apartment but had not yet moved into the new home. Her sister Danita Tate recalled her sister telling her — the same day she died — that she could no longer stay in the marriage .
“You know in a relationship you have to compromise,” Danita Tate told “Dateline.” “I don’t think she was willing to do it. It was her way or no way.”
Detectives also uncovered a past domestic violence call to the home, two months before the couple’s nuptials.
“He grabbed my finger and then I took the ring. I threw it at him. And then he—and then he choked me. And I couldn’t move,” a distraught Tate told a 911 dispatcher at the time.
Tate and Davis were both arrested, but the charges against her were later dropped.
Investigators believed they finally got the break in the case they needed after Tate’s wallet was discovered on Gardere Lane, a crime-ridden area of town. However, her credit cards were still inside, leading detectives to believe that the wallet had been planted there to divert the investigation.
Their suspicions about Davis were heightened when he told detectives he had been on Gardere Lane the night his wife died, allegedly to buy steroids, after first insisting he had just driven straight home.
However, Davis denied any relationship problems and said the couple had been working through their issues.
“I love my wife,” he said during a police interrogation. “We were trying to make the relationship happen.”
Investigators also discovered that Davis' family appeared to be trying to divert them away from him as a possible suspect in the case.
Detectives received an anonymous call saying that Tate had been involved in a lesbian love triangle with a same-sex couple she had been helping with an adoption case at the time of her death—seemingly explaining the long hairs clutched in her hand at the time of her death.
But the female clients insisted there was nothing untoward about their relationship, and detectives eventually learned that the tip had been called in by Davis’ sister.
His family continued to insist he wasn’t the type of man who would kill his own wife and said they believed whoever had killed Tate later tried to kill him during a late-night attack at his home.
“Someone came up to his bedroom window about 3:40 in the morning and shoots into the bedroom window five times with a 10 mm gun, hoping that he was in the bed,” Davis' father, Silver Harris, told “Dateline.” “It just so happened that Greg fell asleep on the sofa. God saved him. He was not in the bed.”
Prosecutors believed, however, that Davis may have staged the attack himself.
They further pointed to blood evidence found in the case that they believed suggested he was the killer. Investigators found small drops of blood throughout the couple’s home and on a Clorox bottle, but it was the blood on a pair of sunglasses found in Davis' car that they believed could be the most damning evidence. The sunglasses had a combination of both his blood and Tate's blood on the left lens and right arm of the glasses.
“I said, ‘I don’t need anything more,’” Burns said of her decision to charge Davis with second-degree murder in 2009.
During the trial two years later, prosecutors relied on their theory that Davis had gone to elaborate lengths to stage the murder, planting the long hairs from a weave to suggest a female killer, dumping the wallet in a seedy part of town and staging the attack on his own home. They also brought former girlfriends to the stand who testified that he had been controlling in his past relationships.
“He would hit them, he would fight with these girls,” Howard said. “As long as he could control them, he was fine.”
Burns believed Davis suspected Tate planned to leave him and also pointed to a $60,000 life insurance policy he stood to collect upon her death as his motive to carry out the brutal slaying.
However, Davis' attorney, Lance Unglesby, argued his client had “no reason” to want to kill his wife.
“He had too much going for him,” Unglesby told “Dateline.” “We did not buy into the prosecutor’s theory that he would do it because he was under some financial stress.”
After just over three hours of deliberation, a jury would find that Davis was responsible—at least in some sense—for the murder, opting to convict him of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
A judge later sentenced him to 40 years behind bars, the maximum allowed under state statutes.
Watch "Dateline: Secrets Uncovered" Thursday at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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