A California man wrongly convicted of murder finally walked out of prison a free man Thursday as police name the new murder suspect who was identified on a genealogy site through newly tested DNA.
Ricky Davis, 54, has been behind bars for 14 years for a crime he didn’t commit, after he was sentenced in 2005 to 16 years to life for the 1985 murder of Jane Hylton, who had been stabbed 29 times.
Davis was tearfully reunited with family and friends on Thursday after a judge threw out his second-degree murder conviction in an emotional court hearing in Placerville.
It was revealed that police had tracked down and arrested the ‘real killer’ by running the suspect’s DNA profile through genealogy websites.
‘I’m not telling you that we can’t prove it, I’m telling you Ricky Davis was wrongfully convicted,’ said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson in a press conference Thursday.
The innocent man was seen smiling about his newfound freedom and holding up a black sweatshirt emblazoned with the Innocence Project logo as he walked out of El Dorado County jail Thursday afternoon surrounded by his family and friends, footage from Fox 40 revealed.
Davis told CBS News just after his release that he was ‘just glad to be out’ and that he had ‘missed so many things I can’t even tell you.’
‘I’ve forgotten more things than I even remember,’ he said. ‘I miss this beautiful country. I miss the trees. I miss everything. I miss fresh air. You know you can never make up for it. I realize that you just pick up the pieces and move forward, and make the best of what’s left.’
Davis’s freedom comes as authorities confirmed they had arrested the new murder suspect, 51-year-old Michael Green, Tuesday afternoon in Roseville.
Using genetic genealogy, unknown male DNA found on the victim was identified as belonging to Green – one of the three boys that Hylton’s 13-year-old daughter Autumn Anker met in a park the night her mother was murdered, said Pierson.
He added that the suspect was a juvenile when the crime took place.
Hylton, a 54-year-old newspaper columnist for the Foothills Times, was found stabbed to death in the home in El Dorado Hills that she shared with Autumn, Davis, then 20, and Davis’ girlfriend Connie Dahl, 19.
She had a bite mark on her left shoulder and her body appeared to have been moved.
The 1985 case went unsolved for 14 years before investigators said DNA evidence – and Dahl’s incriminating confession – tied Davis to the slaying back in November 1999.
He was charged with her murder and convicted in 2005.
A judge overturned Davis’ conviction back in April, after newly-tested evidence found DNA from an unknown male on the victim’s nightgown and under her fingernails.
Davis was kept behind bars while awaiting a retrial.
He walked free Thursday as genealogical testing led police to identify the real killer and solve the 35-year-old crime.
Pierson said new DNA evidence had led his office to reopen the case and that they were ‘very confident Mr. Davis was wrongfully accused and convicted of this crime.’
Pierson also told the court Thursday that Dahl’s confession, which was critical to Davis’ conviction, was ‘what I would characterize as an aggressive, confession-driven interrogation.’
El Dorado Superior Court Judge Kenneth Melekian told Davis that he is now ‘factually innocent’ of the murder.
‘We don’t do this very often,’ Melekian said, adding that Davis is entitled to seek compensation for his wrongful conviction.
According to The Sacramento Bee, Davis thanked the judge and hugged his family members who had joined him in court.
The exonerated man stepped out of jail a few hours later flanked by his family and friends.
Pierson revealed the identity of the new suspect Michael Green, after the new DNA evidence was matched to the alleged killer by using genealogy websites.
He said authorities had discovered that Davis was ‘wrongfully convicted’ and had identified the new suspect as a product of ‘science-based interviews and genetic genealogy’.
Pierson said that the male DNA found on the victim’s nightgown and under her fingernails had been identified as belonging to one of the three boys that Autumn had encountered that night.
The victim’s daughter had met the three teenage boys earlier that night at a park.
She went back to the house, took a shower and changed and told her mom she was going to someone else’s house when she was actually meeting the three boys, Pierson said.
The male DNA matched that of Michael Green, who is now in custody.
One of the other males, known as Calvin, is deceased.
The third individual Steven was located and interviewed Wednesday by authorities.
Steven is being treated as ‘not a participant’ but a ‘witness to the somewhat immediate aftermath’, Pierson said.
He added that prosecutors don’t believe Autumn was present during the attack and confirmed that she is not a person of interest in the case.
Autumn had told authorities at the time of the murder that she had met the three boys – who she named as Michael Green, Calvin and Steven or Brian – that night at the park.
But when authorities tracked down an individual called Michael Green and asked if he had been with her that night, he denied it and Autumn was ‘made to appear as though she was lying’, Pierson said.
Officers had in fact located the ‘wrong Michael Green’, he said.
Hylton’s mutilated body was found in the Sacramento home on July 7 1985. She had been stabbed 29 times.
Hylton had moved into the house just one day before her murder, because of marital problems she was having with her husband Archie Hylton.
Davis, Dahl and Autumn were all at the scene, deputies said.
Davis and Dahl claimed they found the victim dead in an upstairs bedroom and called 911.
They told officers at the time that they had gone to a party the night before and had returned home at around 3:30am to find Autumn waiting outside for them, saying she was worried she would be told off by her mom for staying out late.
They said they then entered the property together to find the gruesome scene.
The only other key suspect at the time was Hylton’s estranged husband who was questioned and cleared after he had a solid alibi.
The day after the brutal murder, Dahl gave a reporter a tour of the crime scene, showing them ‘a bloody hand print on the wall’ and ‘where she believes the body must have been laid as if asleep is the way she describe it’, the reporter said.
When cold case detectives reopened the case in 1999 and questioned Dahl, she testified against her ex-boyfriend in a deal that saw her being given the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Dahl told a jury that Davis had wanted Autumn to come to the party with them but Hylton refused to let her go.
She said that she and Hylton had gotten into a struggle where she had ‘accidentally’ bitten the victim.
She claimed she then went outside the home while Davis continued the attack that ended in Hylton’s brutal death.
Dahl also alleged that the victim’s daughter Autumn helped move her mother’s body.
Dahl was sentenced to just one year in county jail for her alleged involvement and died in 2014.
Davis always denied any involvement in the crime, maintaining that he and Dahl were at the party when the murder took place.
The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) began investigating the case in 2006.
Recent testing revealed that DNA found under the victim’s fingernails and on her nightgown in the area of Dahl’s alleged bite mark belonged to none of the three alleged accomplices.
It also refuted Dahl’s confession that she had bitten the victim.
The DNA was also not a match for Archie Hylton, the victim’s husband.
A judge reversed Davis’ murder conviction on April 15 2019 after lawyers for NCIP argued that ‘had the original jury heard the DNA results, it would have likely reached a different outcome.’
Authorities said that exonerating the innocent man and finding the real murderer had only been possible by using genetic genealogy.
‘This is the first case in California and only the second in this country where investigative genetic genealogy has not only led to the freeing on an individual from prison for a crime he did not commit but the identification of the true source,’ said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
Genetic genealogy has been used by authorities to solve a number of high-profile cold cases over the last couple of years.
It’s the same technique authorities used to catch Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr.
DeAngelo, 74, was finally arrested in April 2018 for at least 50 rapes and 12 murders across California dating back as far as 1975.
Police tracked him down using the technique, which involves cross-referencing the DNA profile of an unidentified suspect with public databases containing DNA from users who’ve submitted samples to consumer companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com to explore their ancestry.
Authorities are now also using the technique to try to track down the infamous Zodiac Killer who murdered at least seven people across Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The killer, who got the name ‘Zodiac’ after they sent letters and cards including ciphers taunting the local press, actually claimed to have killed 37 victims.