Authorities in Spokane are questioning whether the wrong man was sent to prison for murder in the 2007 beating death of a porn shop owner.
A recent DNA match in the case has identified a new suspect.
Jeramie R. Davis, 37, was recently transferred to the Spokane County Jail from the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where he was serving a 40-year sentence for the fatal baseball bat beating and robbery of 74-year-old John Gordon Allen Jr., owner of Best Buy Adult Bookstore on East Sprague Avenue.
In March, DNA found on the baseball bat during the initial investigation came back as a match to Julio J. Davila, 45, after Davila’s DNA was collected for an unrelated felony conviction.
In an interview with police June 27, Davila denied knowing Allen or Davis and said he didn’t know why his DNA would be on the bat. But on July 5, Spokane police detectives talked to an informant who reported seeing more than a dozen new and sealed pornographic videos that Davila traded with people for drugs around the time of the murder.
“The informant advised he/she believed the videos came from the porn shop located a couple blocks east of Division on Sprague,” according to a probable cause affidavit filed to support murder charges against Davila. “The informant further advised that during that time period, Davila would regularly carry sticks that were modified into clubs for self defense.”
Also on July 5, detectives discovered palm prints found on a glass countertop near the cash register matched Davila’s.
Davis, who admitted to stealing property from the store but said he didn’t kill Allen, was convicted of first-degree murder and second-degree burglary in 2008. Authorities now question whether he was wrongly convicted of murder.
“I believe they have a good chance of having their murder conviction vacated because of this recent arrest,” Spokane police Detective Mark Burbridge said of Davis.
Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Dale Nagy, who prosecuted Davis, said “it’s too early to speculate” whether Davis may have been wrongfully convicted. “As soon as the investigation’s done, we’ll go from there,” he said.
Davis arrived back at the jail last week for interviews. Davila was arrested and booked into Spokane County Jail for first- and second-degree murder July 11.
Staff at the jail did not respond to requests to interview Davila and Davis.
The new charges are the latest development in a case in which Davis has always maintained his innocence. After the weeklong trial, Allen’s family said they had worried a lack of DNA evidence would lead the jury to acquit Davis. Davis’ sister, Tina Jackson, said at the time that DNA would eventually exonerate her brother.
Jackson told The Spokesman-Review after his arrest that her brother told her, “I have God, and I have forensics on my side.”
But Nagy said it hasn’t been determined if Davis and Davila may have acted together.
“We know nothing definitive at this point,” he said. “We obviously found evidence that implicates Mr. Davila in that murder. We’re pressing forward on that and we’re continuing to investigate the Jeramie Davis part of it.”
However, Davis’ public defender, Jeffrey Leslie, said he hopes Davis’ murder conviction will be vacated in light of the recent arrest.
“I don’t think Jeramie did this,” Leslie said. “It’s a case that’s bothered me for the last several years. I’m hoping they believe he didn’t do it, as well.”
Allen was found on June 17, 2007, unconscious, with an aluminum baseball bat underneath him and pornographic magazines strewn around him. He died the next day of blunt force head trauma. Davis told police he had gone into the porn shop and discovered Allen on the ground, hands at his sides, with his pants zipper open.
“Davis said he thought the victim might have been masturbating to the pornography, intoxicated and had fallen asleep,” court documents said. “He thought he heard the victim snoring so he left.”
Davis told police he looked around the area for a prostitute before going to Jackson’s home. He told his sister about the store’s owner, and she said he may have had a seizure and suggested the two return to check on him. Davis said it was then, about four hours after he initially found Allen lying on the floor, that he and his sister realized the man was bleeding from the head and called 911.
Before he and his sister returned to the shop, Davis stole pornographic videos and erotic toys, at one point leaving and returning with a friend to help, police said. He initially denied doing so, but the stolen goods turned up during a search of his sister’s house. He admitted to stealing them but said he had not harmed the store’s owner.
Davis appealed his convictions, arguing that the court should not have allowed gloves found in his car’s trunk to be admitted as evidence. Davis said his lawyer was ineffective for not objecting to the gloves’ admittance, but the Division III Court of Appeals disagreed.
“Here, the gloves offer an explanation why fingerprints were not located at the crime scene or on the murder weapon,” Judge Stephen Brown wrote in a ruling filed Feb. 22, 2010.
Davis was ordered to pay about $6,100 in legal expenses to cover the cost of his rejected appeal.
Burbridge said while Davis initially lied to detectives and cast doubt on his credibility, the new evidence may indicate he was telling the truth about not being involved in the murder. However, he said, authorities are still investigating.
“If there are reasons to exonerate them, we want them released,” Burbridge said. “We wouldn’t want an innocent person in jail.”
Davis’ criminal history includes felony property crime convictions and one assault conviction, but he’s stayed out of trouble while in prison. The Washington Department of Corrections says he hasn’t received any infractions in the more than three years he’s been incarcerated.
Davila has a criminal history dating back to at least 1992, when he was convicted of misdemeanor disorderly conduct involving prostitution in Los Angeles, where he told Spokane authorities he’d moved from five years ago. He has misdemeanor domestic violence convictions in Santa Clara County, Calif., Kootenai County and in Spokane County. He was convicted of a felony in 2008, when he pleaded guilty to second-degree domestic violence burglary and third-degree assault. That felony conviction led to his DNA sample being entered into the state system, leading to the match with the baseball bat.
Police obtained a second DNA sample June 27 to confirm the match. Davila was sentenced to probation in January for an unrelated methamphetamine conviction and was under Department of Corrections supervision when police arrested him on the murder charges earlier this month.