Zachary Davis, 15, murdered his mother with a sledgehammer and attempted to kill his brother by setting fire to the house. Despite a history of mental illness, his actions were unpredictable. Known for his abnormal behavior, Zachary habitually whispered every utterance, as if concealing his real voice.

Zachary Davis
Zachary Davis at trial (credit : Morbidology)

He often spoke in a monotone voice and wore the same hoodie every day. He even had apps on his phone about serial killers and torture devices, with the saying “You can’t spell slaughter without laughter” written in his notebook.

The Death of A Loved One

Zachary Davis was born on July 27, 1997, to Melaine and Chris Davis, who also had a one-year-old son named Josh. Zachary was always a quiet child and had a history of mental illness. When he was nine years old, his father Chris passed away due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The loss of his father led Zachary to become depressed, eventually leading to hospitalization for psychiatric treatment.

Zachary Davis Mugshot
Zachary Davis Mugshot

As per Zachary’s paternal grandmother, he was referred to Dr. Bradley Freeman at Vanderbilt University Medical Center shortly after his father’s death. The psychiatrist informed the family that Zachary suffered from some kind of mental deficiency.

Zachary reported hearing voices and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression. Despite his generally calm demeanor, Zachary was losing everything due to his worsening condition.

Zachary went through two common phases, including numbness and depression, but failed to reach phase three: recovery. His mother pulled him out of the clinic shortly after the start of his recovery, which was the reason his grandmother gave at the trial that “given the murders, this would not have happened if Zachary had received adequate medical care.”

Zachary experienced two typical stages, including numbness and depression, but was unable to reach the third stage of recovery. His mother abruptly discontinued his treatment at the clinic just as he was beginning to recover, which led his grandmother to claim in court that “had Zachary received proper medical care, the murders would not have occurred.”

The Night of Horror

Despite her hard work as a paraplegic and training as a triathlete, Zachary’s mother tried her best to overcome the loss of her husband and keep her sons happy. However, she was unaware that her youngest son was struggling with mental health issues that were beyond her control.

Zachary Davis's mother Melaine

Prior to August 10, 2012, Zachary was not known to display any violent behavior.

Zachary, his 16-year-old brother, and their mother went to watch a movie together. Upon their return, Zachary packed essentials such as clothes, notebooks, toothbrushes, gloves, a ski mask, and a claw hammer into a backpack and satchel. It appeared as if he planned to run away, however, there was a hidden malicious intention behind his actions.

Melanie went to bed at 9 pm. While she slept, Zachary, her youngest son, retrieved a sledgehammer from the basement and entered her room. He savagely attacked her, striking her nearly 20 times, killing her.

Zachary, covered in his mother’s blood, closed her door and went to the family playroom where he soaked the room in whiskey and gasoline before setting it ablaze. However, because he closed the door, the fire was contained, and his brother Josh was awoken by the fire alarm. When Josh went to save their mother, he found her lifeless body.

Josh managed to escape the fire, while Zachary was discovered by authorities 10 miles away from their home. During questioning, Zachary revealed that he “didn’t feel anything” when he murdered Melanie.

Arrest and Trial of Zachary Davis

During a court-presented videotaped confession, Zachary Davis claimed that the voice of his father instructed him to kill his mother. When asked by a detective if he would still carry out the attack if given the chance to go back in time, Zachary responded, “I would probably kill Josh with a sledgehammer as well.”

Dr. Phil attempted to show compassion for the troubled teenager, saying, “When I look into your eyes, I don’t see evil, I see a lost soul.”

Defense attorney Randy Lucas questioned Zachary during the trial, asking, “Did your father tell you to do anything specific to your mother?” Zachary answered no.

Throughout the investigation, Zachary displayed a complete lack of remorse, including when presented with graphic photos of his mother’s murdered body. He showed no emotional response.

When questioned about his choice of weapon, Zachary stated, “I was worried that I’d miss.” He chose a sledgehammer as it gave him the “highest chance of killing her.”

During the trial, the jury was shown Zachary’s interview with Dr. Phil, where he was asked, “Why did you kill her?” Zachary replied, “She wasn’t taking care of my family.”

Zachary laughed while describing the size and weight of the sledgehammer, and the “wet thumping sound” it made as it repeatedly connected with his mother’s head. He claimed, “I wanted to make sure she was dead,” explaining his reasoning for multiple strikes.

Zachary attempted to shift the blame for his mother’s murder to his brother, a move that surprised his defense attorney. Despite the defense’s admission of Zachary’s guilt, the attempted shift in blame worsened his case and damaged the defense’s chance of securing a lenient sentence.

“You became evil, Mr. Davis, you went to the dark side. It’s that plain and simple.”

Judge Dee David Gay said to Zachary Davis.

Davis claimed that he was raped by his brother

Lisa House, a retired Sumner County Sheriff’s deputy, read a handwritten confession from one of Zachary Davis’ notebooks during his arrest. In the entry dated August 10th, Davis alleges that his older brother raped him after their family moved to Hendersonville.

“I was raped that day by him, and I’ve been planning to kill him ever since,” the journal entry stated.

Davis writes in an Aug. 11 entry, “I killed Melanie and left Josh alone to suffer… I didn’t have any feelings… I felt no remorse… My only genuine regret was that I did not give her a faster death. I didn’t want her to be in pain.”

During a video-taped interview with Major Don Linzy, Davis admitted to killing his mother with a sledgehammer at around 11 p.m. He chose the sledgehammer because he feared missing and wanted to ensure her death. When asked if he would do it again, he said yes and added that he would also kill his brother with a sledgehammer if given the opportunity.

Regarding the rape allegations against his brother, Davis told the detectives that he had only told his mother, who didn’t do anything about it. However, Josh stated that he loved his brother and was unaware of the rape accusations until after their mother’s murder.

Zachary Davis Now?

The 12-member jury struggled with the fact that while Zachary clearly committed the murder of his mother with intention, it was evident that he was also severely unwell.

Zachary Davis Now
Zachary Davis Now

Zachary Davis’s paternal grandmother, Gail Cron, appealed to the court, highlighting his severe mental illness and the lack of help he received. She stated that the tragedy would not have occurred if Zachary had not been pulled out of his recovery program. “Every teacher, every guidance counselor should have to stand trial alongside Zach,” Cron said. “Zach is not a monster; he’s a child who made a terrible mistake.”

Cron said. “Zach is not a monster. He’s a child who made a horrible mistake.” She believed that his mother, Melanie, failed to get Zachary the help he needed and ultimately paid the price with her life.

Dr. Freeman, who diagnosed Zachary initially, also testified in court that his “judgment was driven by his psychosis” and that he could not have premeditated the murder due to his mental illness.

However, the jury did not agree with Dr. Freeman and Cron, and Zachary was sentenced to life in prison after a verdict was reached in just three hours.

Zachary Davis Today

District Attorney Ray Whitely stated that Davis was “smarter and wilier than given credit for.” In Tennessee, a life sentence requires a minimum of 60 years behind bars, with the possibility of parole after 51 years. Zachary would be in his 60s before he could be considered for release.

The true motive behind the murders is still unknown.

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