A man who spent nearly six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit had one request today after a judge set him free: a double cheeseburger from Zips.
Jeramie R. Davis, 42, also looked forward to bonding with his 5-year-old son, Elijah, who was born shortly after his arrest in 2007.
“He really doesn’t know who I am,” Davis said of his son. “I want to get to know him.
Today’s release ended years of investigations, a conviction, DNA tests, a second trial that convicted a different man and scores of legal arguments stemming from the June 17, 2007, bludgeoning death of 74-year-old porn shop owner John G. “Jack” Allen.
“I’m grateful,” Davis said of years of legal battles by defense attorneys Anna Tolin, Kevin Curtis and others who labored on his behalf.
Back in 2007, Davis admitted stealing items from the adult book store after seeing Allen on the floor and thinking he had simply passed out, but always insisted he’d had nothing to do with the man’s murder.
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Dale Nagy convinced a jury in 2008 that Davis had used a baseball bat to kill Allen despite tests showing someone else’s DNA was on the weapon. The jury convicted him of first-degree murder, second-degree burglary and trafficking in stolen property.
At his sentencing in 2008 where he received a 40-year sentence, Davis predicted that justice would eventually be done.
In court today, Davis agreed to a plea bargain for stealing the items from the store but was credited with the time he’d already spent in prison and was set free.
“This just shows the effort to correct an unlawful conviction is often a huge challenge,” said Tolin, of the Seattle-based Innocence Project Northwest Clinic.
Davis freely admitted that he stole items from the store but it was he and his sister who alerted authorities to Allen’s injuries. He waited for police to arrive and he always maintained that he had no role in Allen’s slaying.
Davis lost his appeal and the Washington Supreme Court refused to hear his arguments.
Then Davis’ case got new life in 2011 from an unlikely source: the Spokane Police Department.
That year, Detective Tim Madsen resubmitted the DNA from the baseball bat used to kill Allen and it came back with a match in the state’s convicted felon database to Julio J. Davila.
Further investigation revealed that Davila had been in the area at the time of the killing and another check of the evidence matched Davila’s palm print to the counter near where Allen had been killed. Further complicating the case, neither Davis nor Davila claimed to know each other.
In the meantime, Davis had been sent to prison and no longer had an attorney. However, his mother, Paulette Kendall, continued to work on Davis’ appeal despite the pain from a neck surgery. Armed with the DNA evidence, she placed multiple calls to the Innocence Project.
“He was on the waiting list,” Kendall said. “I happened to dial the right number at the right time. They took a cat by the end of the tail when they said they would take it.”
In 2012, a different jury convicted Davila and Judge Sypolt agreed to vacate Davis’ murder conviction. But Nagy pressed for a new trial again under the argument that Davis and Davila worked together during the crime.
That led to another round of legal arguments where defense attorneys tried to force Nagy to provide evidence of that theory. None was ever provided, Tolin said.
Sypolt scheduled a new trial and attorneys then began to negotiate a settlement since Davis readily admitted to stealing items from the store. They finally agreed to have Davis plead guilty to second-degree robbery and he was given credit for time served.
Spokane attorney Kevin Curtis said the state Department of Corrections determined that Davis would have served 56 months in prison had he been convicted of the robbery charge back in 2008. Since Davis already served 70 months, he was allowed to walk out a free man.
After the hearing, however, Nagy again said he believed Davis and Davila worked together during the murder.
“Had we proceeded to trial, we would have shown that Davis did go in with Davila. Davis didn’t think anyone would get hurt,” Nagy said. “We had no evidence that (Davis) ever swung the bat.”
Curtis called Nagy’s argument nonsense, saying that if Nagy had that evidence he would have charged Davis with murder while in commission of another felony.
“Mr. Nagy can believe what he wishes to believe,” Curtis said.
Tolin added that extensive efforts by detectives to link the two men came up empty.
“As admitted after the fact, Mr. Davis was in the store and knew the person could not give consent because of the previous use of force against him,” Tolin said. “Gratefully, we were able to reach a conclusion that allows Mr. Davis to go home to his family today. I’m happy to be part of it.”
Judge Sypolt wished Davis good luck.
“Indeed, this has been an unusual case for all the participants,” Sypolt said. “It’s had a long journey.”
None longer than Davis, who said he never lost hope during his 70 months of confinement.
“I stayed in the word. That’s prison talk for God,” Davis said. “I knew this day would come. I just want to play with my son.”