A Chicago man who spent 32 years behind bars before DNA evidence helped overturn his conviction in the rape and killing of a 3-year-old girl was released from prison yesterday, just hours after prosecutors dropped the case against him.
An Illinois appeals court in March had ordered a new trial for 50-year-old Andre Davis after tests found that DNA taken from the scene of the 1980 killing of Brianna Stickle wasn’t his. The girl was attacked in Rantoul, about 32km north of Champaign.
Davis was released from the super-maximum security prison in Tamms in far southern Illinois around 7.30pm local time, said Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kayce Ataiyero.
Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz had decided earlier in the day not to pursue charges against him.
Judy Royal of the Centre on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, which represented Davis, said he was the longest-serving of the 42 people exonerated by DNA evidence in Illinois.
Mr Davis served 32 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit,” said Royal. “Tamms is a difficult place to do time. He is hoping to rebuild his life, with the support of his family.”
Reitz said that while she didn’t doubt the results of the DNA tests, she decided not to retry Davis because of the difficulty in taking a 32-year-old case to trial.
“After 30 years, witnesses are either deceased, missing or no longer credible to testify,” said Rietz. She noted that Davis was twice convicted by juries. His first conviction was overturned because of a mistake made by a bailiff during jury deliberations.
Rietz said any further steps in the investigation of Brianna’s death will be up to police.
Davis was arrested shortly after Briana was found on August 8, 1980, in a house on the street where she lived with her mother and stepfather in Rantoul.
According to trial testimony, Davis – who was 19 at the time – was visiting his father in Rantoul. He spent the day the girl died drinking at the home where she was eventually found with the two brothers who lived there. At some point the brothers left, leaving Davis there alone.
Briana’s stepfather, Rand Spragg, said he left the girl playing in the family’s front yard and last saw her sitting under a tree.
The family later searched for her. She was found in the brothers’ home, naked and under bed clothes in a utility room. She died that night at a local hospital.
An acquaintance told police that Davis said he had killed “a woman” at the home.
DNA testing wasn’t available in 1980. But in 2004, Davis requested that evidence gathered at the scene of Briana’s death be DNA tested.
According to the tests, blood and semen found at the scene weren’t from Davis. That led to the March appellate court decision.
Royal wasn’t sure what plans Davis had, but she said that after so many years he was fortunate that family members were still alive to greet him and help him acclimate to life outside prison.
“A lot of times when people are incarcerated for lengthy periods of time, family members die,” Royal said. “That is one good thing, that he will have their support.
“I think it’s difficult for him to know exactly what to do,” she added, noting that the Centre on Wrongful Convictions works with the people it helps free to aid in their adjustment.
“I know that he’s very intelligent and he has been assisting in the preparation of his appeal for years and giving some good suggestions in that regard.”