Unrelenting effort wins man his freedom
Davis never gave up hope, despite murder conviction
A man who spent nearly six years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit had one request Thursday after a judge set him free: a double cheeseburger from Zip’s.
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.
Thursday’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 his defense attorneys Anna Tolin and Kevin Curtis and others who labored on his behalf.
Back in 2007, Davis admitted stealing items from the adult bookstore after seeing Allen on the floor and thinking he had passed out, but always insisted he had nothing to do with the man’s murder.
But 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 2008 sentencing where he received 40 years in prison, Davis predicted that justice would eventually be done.
In court Thursday, Davis agreed to a plea bargain for stealing 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 and his sister alerted authorities to Allen’s injuries. He waited for police to arrive and maintained that he had no role in Allen’s slaying. Davis lost an appeal of his conviction, and the Washington Supreme Court refused to hear his arguments.
Davis’ case found 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 initial case, Davis and Davila both claimed they didn’t 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. 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 the new suspect, Davila, and Judge Greg Sypolt agreed to vacate Davis’ earlier murder conviction. Nagy pressed for a new trial under the argument that Davis and Davila had worked together during the crime, which kept Davis behind bars.
That led to another round of legal arguments where defense attorneys tried to force Nagy to provide evidence for the accomplice theory. None was ever provided, Tolin said.
Since Davis readily admitted stealing items from the store, prosecutors and defense attorneys negotiated a plea bargain. 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 had 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.”
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 that of 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.”