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DNA evidence in 2007 murder points to another man

Sun., March 11, 2012

Water cascades from the roof in heavy droplets inside the abandoned brick-and-glass building on Sprague Avenue where an adult bookstore owner was bludgeoned to death nearly five years ago.

Just as the building crumbles, cracks also have begun forming in the case against the admitted thief who was sent to prison for the brutal murder of 74-year-old John G. “Jack” Allen Jr.

DNA evidence on the murder weapon has implicated a new suspect in the 2007 slaying, which prosecutors successfully argued in 2008 was the work of just one man: Jeramie R. Davis, 41.

Lawyers across the state are trying to figure out what to do.

Davis remains locked up, serving a nearly 40-year sentence for Allen’s murder. The new suspect, 46-year-old Julio J. Davila, is awaiting an April 23 trial for the same killing. Authorities now contend both men were involved, but some jurors who convicted Davis based on the prosecution’s one-killer scenario say they feel somewhat misled.

Davis’ new attorney, Anna Tolin, of the Seattle-based Innocence Project Northwest Clinic, calls the conviction “a unique situation.”

Davis “is convicted of a murder. There was never any suggestion that there was another perpetrator. Now they have charged Mr. Davila.

“It certainly leaves the possibility that (prosecutors) would come to the conclusion that Mr. Davis is not guilty of that murder. But I can’t speak for the state about the position they will ultimately take on this case.”

The deputy prosecutor who handled the case, Dale Nagy, said he has “no concerns” about the apparent legal quandary.

“The evidence we had to convict Davis is the same,” Nagy said. “Nothing has changed. The jury was aware during the last one that (Davis’) DNA was not on the bat handle and that his fingerprints were not in the store.”

Nagy, however, acknowledged that he would have prosecuted the case differently had the new DNA evidence been available. “We would have tried the two together if we had a hit on Mr. Davila,” he said.

Jurors who spoke to The Spokesman-Review expressed concern that the case they judged some four years ago is now being called into question. To a person, they agreed they would have preferred to have had the DNA evidence implicating Davila when deciding Davis’ role.

Ted Smet, 51, was among the 12 jurors who convicted Davis of first-degree murder. Smet said it gave him pause when he learned that DNA evidence on the murder weapon came back to Davila.

“You do the best with what is presented and the way the law is written,” Smet said. “You’ve got 12 people making the same decision. You feel good about it. But then, it’s an imperfect world, and if that’s the case it’s unfortunate that that happened.”

Gloves played pivotal role

Jack Allen was one of a dozen siblings, and he served as family patriarch in the Spokane area, said his nephews Jerry Allen, 38, and Jason Kazmark, 37.

“Uncle Jack took care of a lot of people in the family,” Kazmark said. “He was the glue. He was one tough son of a gun.”

In the months leading up to his murder, Allen – who always carried a wad of cash – documented two dozen burglaries of his store.

On June 17, 2007, Jeramie Davis, a convicted felon, told police that he spent the day with a prostitute “boosting,” or stealing items in an attempt to raise money for methamphetamine and for the prostitute’s transportation to Tacoma.

That evening, Davis went to Best Buy Adult Bookstore at 123 E. Sprague Ave., just east of Division Street.

Davis said he entered the store, noticed Allen lying on the floor, and began stealing items. Davis later said he thought Allen was sleeping. He repeatedly returned to the store to steal more items until the prostitute suggested that Allen might not be OK. Eventually, Davis drove to Hillyard to pick up his sister, and she persuaded Davis to call 911 while they both waited at the store.

Spokane police detectives charged Davis – who first denied but later admitted stealing a trunk load of pornography – with Allen’s murder, despite his vehement denials of ever touching Allen. At Davis’ trial in 2008, Nagy told the jury not to worry about the fact that DNA on the murder weapon didn’t match Davis’. In court, the DNA was described only as having come from someone identified as “Individual A.”

“Mr. Davis was in the store at least three times that night. He didn’t leave any fingerprints,” Nagy said, according to court documents. “Why is that? Why didn’t he leave any DNA? Because he was wearing gloves, ladies and gentlemen.”

The attorney told the jury, Davis “found this old man at the store at night, hit him on the head, got his booty from the store.”

Spokane police detectives found gloves in Davis’ Ford Mustang, but there was no blood on them and no witnesses testified that they saw Davis handle the gloves.

Davis’ defense attorney, Jeffrey Leslie, didn’t object when Nagy entered the gloves as evidence during the trial, but he told the jury during his closing argument to disregard them because nobody could connect them to the crime.

“The person who killed Mr. Allen is unidentified individual A,” Leslie argued, according to court transcripts. “Jeramie Davis is a thief and not a murderer.”

Three jurors said the gloves weighed into their decision to convict Davis. Later, an appeals court judge pointed to the gloves as the reason detectives found no forensic evidence linking Davis to the killing.

But one 58-year-old male juror, who asked to not be named for fear of retribution, said the jurors did the best they could with the information presented to them.

“If they have new evidence, I don’t see why they would not give (Davis) another chance,” the juror said. “If they find some new evidence, great, bring it forth. Nobody is out to ruin somebody’s life.”

New DNA test turned up Davila

At some point, Spokane police Detective Tim Madsen reran the DNA from the bat that killed Allen. Madsen declined comment on the new developments in the case, so it’s unclear what prompted him to do so. But last March, the DNA came back as a match to Davila. Detectives later matched a palm print on the counter near the store’s cash register to Davila.

During Davis’ trial, a DNA expert said a partial match to the person now identified as Davila was also found in Allen’s stolen truck, which was a block-and-a-half from the crime scene.

Davila, according to court records, has refused to speak with detectives but has denied any connection to Davis. That lack of connection attracted the attention of the federally funded Innocence Project, which uses DNA to exonerate people wrongfully convicted of crimes. If successful, Davis would be the first such exoneration from Spokane, said Tolin, of the Innocence Project Northwest office.

“Our ultimate goal is that he doesn’t serve time in prison for a murder he didn’t commit,” she said. “What I can’t say is how quickly that might happen.”

Davis has exhausted his appeal options. However, Tolin said the law allows another window if new evidence comes to light.

“He does have a sentence for crimes that were not murder,” Tolin said, referring to an 84-month sentence for property crimes as a part of Davis’ murder conviction. “I would hope that we will be able to obtain his release soon.”

As for the family of Allen, Davila’s upcoming trial promises to rekindle their pain.

“My heart goes out to them. I can only imagine how difficult it is to relive such a loss,” Tolin said. “My hope is they will find solace in knowing the truth. That is what we are after. The worst thing that can happen is for a crime to go unsolved, or for someone to serve time for a crime they didn’t commit. They deserve as much as anyone to know who the actual perpetrator was.”

Kazmark, Allen’s nephew, agrees with Tolin that the family does not want to relive Jack Allen’s horrible death. But both he and Jerry Allen said they would be fine with Davis serving the entire 40 years in prison.

“We have zero sympathy for Davis if he wants to get off. I put (Davis) in the same category as Davila,” Kazmark said. Davis “stepped over my uncle while he was still alive. He’s gone through his appeals. He’s gotten everything society can give him. But he didn’t do what everyone in society is obligated to do, which is help someone who is hurt.”

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