On December, 18, 1993, Patrick “Pall Mall” Ferguson was found murdered in the Burnham Mill Apartment Complex in Elgin, Illinois. Ferguson had visited the complex after supposedly receiving a page from Lavelle L. Davis. On January 25, 1994, the Kane County Circuit Court Grand Jury indicted Lavelle Davis on charges of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery; he was arrested seven months later. Davis pleaded innocent to all charges.
After numerous delays, the case went to trial in the fall of 1996, but on October of that year the first trial ended in a mistrial after the prosecution’s key witness, Sharlet Clements, changed her testimony while on the stand. At the second trial, in February 1997, a Kane County jury found Davis guilty based largely on a lip print that two prosecution forensic witnesses claimed only he could have left. He was sentenced to 45 years.
The lip print, which was found on duct tape near the murder scene, was the only physical evidence purporting to connect Davis to the crime. The prosecution’s forensic witnesses, Leanne Gray, an Illinois State Police latent fingerprint examiner, and Steven McKasson, a document examiner with the Southern Illinois forensic science lab, falsely told the jury that lip prints are an accepted form of identification. In fact, the Davis case appears to be the only reported case in which a lip print has ever been introduced in evidence. In May 1999, the Second District Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction, but acknowledged that the trial judge had failed to hold a hearing that is required before novel scientific evidence may be admitted in evidence. The Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal.
Several years later pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Winston & Strawn filed a petition for post-conviction relief on behalf of Davis. In 2006 Kane County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Q. Sheldon granted the petition following a hearing at which independent experts testified that lip print identification is not accepted science. Davis’s attorneys also presented a letter from the chief of the FBI’s latent fingerprint unit stating: “The FBI Laboratory has not conducted any validation studies of lip print identification and has determined that it will not perform lip print analysis.” At the trial, in addition to the bogus lip print evidence, the prosecution had presented the testimony of an eyewitness who had admitted lying to police and had been unable to identify Davis as a suspect. Judge Sheldon found his testimony was “wrought with contradictions and lies and inconsistencies.” Judge Shelton also found that prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of defense counsel were factors that contributed to Davis’s conviction.
On March 24, 2006, Davis was released on bond after spending 8 years in prison. On May 1, 2009, the prosecution dropped the charges against Davis, who had no prior criminal record. His conviction was expunged eight months later.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions