OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Ricky Davis was convicted in 2005 of brutally murdering a family friend. It was a cold case murder from 1985 that appeared to be solved.
Now, a Superior Court judge in El Dorado County has overturned Davis's guilty conviction, based on new DNA evidence that surfaced from work by the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara Law School.
The case involved a brutal attack that left 54-year-old Jane Hylton dead. Her body was found with multiple stab wounds and a bite mark on her shoulder. She was on a bed inside Davis's family home where Davis, then 20 years old, had been staying with his mother, his girlfriend, Hylton and her 13-year-old daughter.
The Mountain Democrat newspaper in Placerville had been covering the 1985 case and went to the crime scene the day after the murder. The newspaper reporter said Davis's girlfriend Constance Dahl, then 19-years-old, escorted the reporter through the house. The reporter took a photo of a bloody handprint on a wall of a bedroom.
"The case went cold for 14 years with no leads," said Melissa O'Connell of the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law, who helped get Davis's conviction overturned.
O'Connell says in 1999, law enforcement officers visited Davis's girlfriend Connie Dahl in an Oregon prison and got her to confess that she had bitten the victim on the shoulder while helping Davis with the murder 20 years before.
"We were concerned with the methods of the interrogation that were used," said O'Connell who added that the officers were the ones who told Dahl of the bite marks.
O'Connell says Dahl's testimony led to Davis being tried and convicted in 2005. Davis maintained his innocence during more than a decade behind bars.
"At the time of trial, the laboratory that was doing forensic testing in the case was unable to test for the saliva or any foreign DNA on the nightgown, because the nightgown was sadly soaked in the victim's blood," said O'Connell.
So the Innocence Project took up the case and asked the El Dorado County District Attorney to allow a test on the victim's nightgown, using modern DNA technology.
Those results at the Sacramento DA's crime lab changed everything, according to O'Connell, because saliva DNA was found.
"It came back to an unknown man, so not only was Ricky Davis excluded, but Connie, the main witness Ms. Dahl was also excluded," said O'Connell.
O'Connell says more DNA testing showed the same unknown male's DNA under the victim's fingernails.
On April 15th, a Superior Court judge overturned the conviction, but he did not declare Davis innocent.
Davis remains in prison while the El Dorado DA has 60 days to decide whether to retry the case.
The Innocence Project team says they empathize with the victim's family and the pain they might feel with this case being reopened.
O'Connell says, though, that justice must be done.
"The only person who benefits is the true perpetrator and there's no justice in the wrong person being convicted for that crime," said O'Connell.
O'Connell says the DNA samples have been submitted to state and federal databases, but so far there has been no match with the unknown man's DNA.
The judge has set the next hearing date for May 17th to decide on a trial date if the district attorney decides to proceed with a retrial.