Northern California man exonerated in 1985 slaying thanks to new DNA
PLACERVILLE — California authorities used recently developed DNA techniques to free one man and implicate another for only the second time in the United States, officials said Thursday.
A man who spent about 15 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted in the slaying of his housemate has been exonerated after authorities used extended DNA links developed through publicly available genealogical websites to build a family tree that led to the arrest of a new suspect.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson would not go into detail on the newly implicated suspect, who was a juvenile at the time of the slaying and by law must make at least his first appearances in juvenile court even though he is now in his 50s, but said he was one of three young men who had been with the victim's teenage daughter on the night of the slaying.
A county judge on Thursday ordered Ricky Davis released from custody during an emotional court hearing in Placerville, about 45 miles (70 miles) east of Sacramento. He was to be released after paperwork is completed later Thursday.
Davis, 54, had always maintained his innocence.
Pierson said the developments are “two of the most dramatic extremes that you can experience.”
“On the one hand, we have the system working in the worst possible way. On the other hand, we have the evolution of technology in terms of genetic genealogy" that led to Davis being freed and a new suspect arrested this week, he said. "It is a surreal thing in a sense.”
The same DNA techniques in 2018 identified the suspected Golden State Killer, a former police officer now awaiting trial in 12 homicides and numerous rapes across California in the 1970s and 1980s.
It has since been used to find suspects in nearly 80 cases nationwide, said Anne Marie Schubert, the district attorney in neighboring Sacramento County whose office made the DNA link in both cases. But it's only the second time the new technique exonerated a suspect, the first being last year in Idaho when Christopher Tapp was cleared of the 1996 murder of Angie Dodge, she said.
“It must be remembered that this is not a tool of conviction, it is a tool of justice," Schubert said.
Jane Hylton, a 54-year-old columnist for the Foothills Times, was found dead — stabbed 29 times and bitten on the shoulder — on July 7, 1985, inside an El Dorado Hills home. She was staying there temporarily with her teenage daughter, Davis and Davis' then-girlfriend Connie Dahl.
The man arrested this week was one of three youths who were in a park that night with the then-13-year-old daughter of the victim.
One of the three boys is now dead and another is cooperating in the investigation, Pierson said. That man is not believed to have participated in the slaying, but may have known about it afterward, he said. The daughter is not a suspect and helped identify the new suspect, he said.
Davis and Dahl told detectives they had gone to a party the night before and returned home at 3:30 a.m. where they found Hylton’s daughter waiting outside. The teenager told them she had gone out with a group of boys that night and was afraid her mother would be upset with her for being out too late, according to an online synopsis of the case by the Innocence Project, which is part of the Santa Clara University School of Law.