Lavelle Davis

Phony forensic testimony sent him to prison for twelve years

A Kane County jury found Lavelle Davis guilty of a murder based largely on a lip print that two prosecution forensic witnesses claimed only he could have left. The witnesses, Leanne Gray, an Illinois State Police latent fingerprint examiner, and Steven McKasson, a document examiner with the Southern Illinois forensic science lab, falsely told the jury that lip prints are an accepted form of identification. In fact, the Davis case apparently is the only reported case in which a lip print was introduced into evidence.

Davis was convicted in 1997 of murdering Patrick Ferguson in Elgin four years earlier. The lip print, which was found on duct tape near the murder scene, was the only physical evidence purporting to connect Davis to the crime. In May 1999, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction, even while conceding that the trial judge had failed to hold a hearing that is required before novel scientific evidence can be admitted into evidence.

After the Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal, Davis's pro bono attorneys from Winston & Strawn filed a petition for post conviction relief, which Kane County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Q. Sheldon granted in 2006 following a hearing at which independent experts testified that lip print identification is not accepted science. In addition, the attorneys introduced a letter from the chief of the FBI's latent fingerprint unit stating: "The FBI Laboratory has not conducted any validation studies of lip print identification and has determined that it will not perform lip print analysis." At the trial, in addition to the phony lip print evidence, the prosecution sponsored the testimony of an eyewitness who had admitted he lied to police and had been unable to identify Davis as a suspect. Judge Sheldon found his testimony was "wrought with contradictions and lies and inconsistencies." Judge Shelton also found that prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of defense counsel were factors in Davis's wrongful conviction.

In April 2009, the prosecution dropped the charges against Davis, who had no prior criminal record. Eight months later, his conviction was officially expunged.