Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Lavelle Davis

Other Illinois Murder Cases with False Forensics
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Lavelle_Davis%20(1).jpg
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 20-year-old Lavelle L. Davis.

On January 25, 1994, a Kane County grand jury indicted Davis, who had no prior criminal record, on charges of first-degree murder and attempted armed robber. He was arrested seven months later.

In the fall of 1996, Davis went to trial in Kane County Circuit Court. In October, 1996, a mistrial was declared after the prosecution’s key witness, Sharlet Clements, changed her testimony while on the stand.

In February 1997, followin a second trial, a jury convicted Davis largely on the basis of a lip print that two prosecution forensic witnesses claimed only Davis could have left. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison. 
 
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 were 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 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 was 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 Sheldon 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 eight years in prison.  On May 1, 2009, the prosecution dismissed the charges against Davis. His conviction was expunged eight months later.
 
Center on Wrongful Convictions

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date:  Before June 2012
State:Illinois
County:Kane
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempt, Violent, Other Violent Felony
Reported Crime Date:1993
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2009
Sentence:45 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:20
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No