Andre Davis at Northwestern Law (Photo: Randy Belice)
Nearly 32 years behind bars—and innocent
Andre Davis, a client of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, was exonerated based on DNA test results on July 6, 2012, after nearly 32 behind bars for the rape and murder of a three-year-old girl in Champaign County.
DNA also identified the apparent actual perpetrator of the crime—Maurice Tucker, who had testified against Davis at two trials in the early 1980s. Tucker reportedly is living in the Minneapolis area. As of July 8, it was not known if Champaign County authorities had taken steps to arrest or question him.
At Davis's first trial in 1981, the prosecution sought the death penalty, but jurors did not unanimously agree and he was sentenced to natural life in prison. That conviction was reversed because a bailiff had failed to tell the judge that the jury had requested a transcript during its deliberations. At Davis's 1983 retrial, he again was convicted, but sentenced to 80 years in prison rather than natural life.
Davis, an African American, was the 42nd Illinois defendant exonerated by DNA since the dawning of the DNA forensic age in 1989. There were 64 Illinois exonerations based on evidence other than DNA in that period, bringing the total number to 106. Of those, Davis served the longest—31 years, 10 months, and 29 days, to be precise. He was 19 when arrested and 50 when released.
The crime for which he was wrongfully convicted occurred on August 8, 1980. Shortly after 6:30 p.m., the three-year-old victim, Brianna Stickle, who was white, disappeared from the front yard of her home at 1110 Eastview Drive in Rantoul, where she lived with her mother and stepfather, Rand Spragg.
Spragg promptly began going house-to house throughout the neighborhood in search of Brianna. He found no trace of her, but there was no answer at one house he visited—the house next door where Maurice Tucker lived with his brother, Lutellis Tucker. Spragg was still searching a few hours later when a neighbor, Donald Douroux, pulled up in a car and stopped in front of the Tucker home. Spragg watched as Douroux briefly entered the Tucker house through the back door and come back out again. Spragg then asked Douroux if he and his wife could search the empty house for Brianna. Douroux agreed and followed the Spraggs inside.
They found nothing initially, but Douroux went back inside to lock the back door. He emerged moments later in what Spragg described as "a semi-hysterical state" and said he had found something. Spragg then went back inside and found Brianna dead on a bed in a utility room covered with bed clothing. On the bedding, Spragg and other witnesses saw several wet stains, some blood and others clear and sticky.
When police arrived, Douroux told them that they should speak to Andre Davis who could be found at 1056 Eastview, which was where Douroux lived. Police found Davis there and immediately placed him under arrest. He was later charged with rape, murder, and aggravated kidnapping.
Maurice Tucker testified at both trials that he had spent the day of the crime drinking with Davis, and that he and Davis parted company sometime between 5:30 and 6 p.m. According to Tucker, Davis was wearing jeans when he left the Tucker house. Tucker later identified a pair of jeans found at the crime scene as belonging to Davis. Davis was wearing red pants when police found him at Douroux's house.
Douroux testified that Davis had told him that he had killed a white woman which explained why he went to the Tucker house on the night of the crime. Douroux, who grew up with the Tucker brothers in Gary, Indiana, was himself a suspect and hair samples had been taken from him at the time.
The prosecution presented expert testimony that blood and semen had been found on the bedding and that the semen had come from a non-secretor—a man who does not secret his blood group substances into his other bodily fluids. Davis was a non-secretor, as is about 20 percent of the population.
A physician testified that he examined Davis shortly after the crime and found neither blood nor semen on Davis's legs or genitals, but claimed to have found fecal matter under the foreskin of his penis. The prosecution argued that the purported fecal matter had been deposited during the rape. The defense challenged the claim that the substance in question was fecal matter; no bacteria consistent with fecal matter grew in a laboratory culture that was taken.
An investigator for the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement (later renamed the Department of State Police) testified that he questioned Davis and that, when asked if he had killed the child, Davis replied, "It's possible." The investigator also testified, however, that Davis repeatedly denied any knowledge of or involvement in the crime. The interrogation was not recorded, and the investigator acknowledged that he might have taken the "it's possible" remark out of context.
Other evidence pointed guilt away from Davis. An eyewitness did not identify Davis as the person leaving the back door of the Tucker house at about 7 p.m. on the night of the crime. Hairs removed from the victim's vaginal and anal area did not match Davis. And, other witnesses, who had been at the Tucker house when Davis left, said that Davis was wearing burgundy pants at the time.
The jury found Davis guilty. The next day, Davis's lawyers filed a motion for a mistrial, alleging that during deliberations the jury had requested a transcript, but that, without telling the judge, the bailiff said one might be available by mid-summer.
The motion was denied, and when the jury could not unanimously agree on the death penalty, Davis was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1982, the Illinois Court of Appeals set aside the conviction and sentence because of the bailiff's failure to notify the judge of the jury's request.
Davis went to trial again and in June 1983, was again convicted of all charges. That conviction was affirmed by the Appellate Court in April 1984.
On February 17, 2004, Davis, represented by Jane Raley, of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, filed a motion for DNA testing of the biological evidence in the case. Two male profiles were identified, neither of which was Davis's, but one of which was Maurice Tucker's.
Raley filed a petition in the Champaign County Circuit Court to vacate Davis's conviction based on the DNA test results and new evidence showing that what had been characterized as fecal matter was in fact smegma, a secretion sometimes found under the foreskin of uncircumcised males.
The prosecution contended that the DNA was irrelevant because Maurice Tucker's semen might have been unrelated to the crime.
However, forensic scientist Edward T. Blake determined that the semen was mixed in and on top of the victim's blood and, therefore, had to have been deposited at the time of the crime. Nonetheless, Champaign County Circuit Court Judge Charles M. Leonhard denied the petition in February 2011, ruling that the new evidence "did not undermine confidence in the outcome" of the trial.
Raley appealed. The State argued that Davis had failed to pursue his claim of innocence diligently because DNA testing was available as early as 1996 and that the motion to obtain testing had not been filed until 2004. Raley pointed out that Davis had been incarcerated at Tamms Correctional Center, the state's most secure prison, and had no lawyer because he was indigent.
On March 5, 2012, the Illinois Appeals Court overturned the denial of the petition and ordered a new trial based on the DNA test results. On July 6, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Davis was released from Tamms.
— Maurice Possley and Rob Warden.