Northern California man free after 14 years behind bars thanks to new DNA

California

PLACERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — A California man who spent 14 years in prison after being wrongly convicted in the killing of his roommate was exonerated Thursday after prosecutors found new DNA evidence that led to a new suspect.

Ricky Davis’ murder conviction was thrown out during an emotional court hearing in Placerville, about 45 miles east of Sacramento. He is expected to be released after paperwork is completed later Thursday.

Davis was convicted in 2005 of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Jane Hylton, a 54-year-old columnist for the Foothills Times.

Hylton was found dead on July 7, 1985, inside an El Dorado Hills home, which she lived in with her teenage daughter, Davis and Davis’ then-girlfriend Connie Dahl.

Prosecutors said genetic genealogy helped investigators to determine the DNA belongs to one of the teenage boys Hylton’s daughter testified she was with in a park the night of the murder.

Davis and Dahl told detectives they had gone to a party the night before and returned home at 3:30 a.m. where they found Hylton’s daughter waiting outside. The teenager told them she had gone out with a group of boys that night and was afraid her mother would be upset with her for being out too late, according to an online synopsis of the case by the Innocence Project, which is part of the Santa Clara University School of Law.

“The three entered the house together. Davis saw blood in the hallway outside the master bedroom and found Hylton’s body on the bed. Davis and Dahl immediately called 911 to report the crime. All three maintained they were not involved in the murder and did not know who committed the crime,” according to the project.

The case went unsolved until detectives reopened it in late 1999.

“Dahl ultimately changed her story for police and implicated Davis as the killer,” according to the project. “She also implicated herself in the crime, telling the police that she bit the victim during the attack.”

DNA test results revealed an unknown male DNA profile on the nightgown in the area of the bite mark and a consistent male DNA profile under the victim’s fingernails. The test results excluded Davis, Dahl and Hylton’s daughter as the sources of the DNA, the project said.

That led to the murder conviction being overturned in 2019 after project lawyers argued that “had the original jury heard the DNA results, it would have likely reached a different outcome,” the project synopsis says. Davis remained in custody awaiting a new trial set for April.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson told the judge on Thursday his office is convinced Davis was wrongfully convicted in the July 1985 slaying of Janet Hylton.

Pierson said he concluded the questioning of Dahl by detectives years ago was “what I would characterize as an aggressive, confession-driven interrogation.”

Davis, 54, had always maintained his innocence.

Dahl, who received a one-year county jail sentence in the case, died in 2014, according to the Mountain Democrat in Placerville, which followed the case extensively.

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