On August 8, 1980, three-year-old Brianna Stickle disappeared from the front yard of her home at 1110 Eastview Drive, where she lived with her mother and stepfather in Rantoul, Illinois.
Her stepfather, Rand Spragg, told police he saw Brianna, who was clad only in underpants, in the yard about 6:30 p.m. and then not long after, discovered she was gone. He and his wife searched the neighborhood without success and called police at about 7:50 p.m.
Around 8:30 p.m., Spragg saw a car pull up to the house next door at 1112 Eastview Drive where Lutellis and Maurice Tucker lived. Spragg saw a man go the front door and then the back door, go inside and then come back out. Spragg and his wife asked if they could look inside and the man, later identified as Donald Douroux, accompanied them inside. Spragg's wife looked under the bed in a rear utility room and they walked through the house, but found nothing.
Douroux said he would go in and lock up and soon emerged in a semi-hysterical state, saying he had found something in a back room.
Brianna was on a bed in the utility room. She was dead, covered by bed linens. Her naked body was bloody in the genital area. She had been raped and asphyxiated.
The first police officer who arrived was in the utility room with the body when he heard a voice say that "the subject you want is at 1056," just a few houses away. When more police arrived, the first officer reported what he had heard and officers went to 1056 Eastview, which was where Douroux lived. Officers found both Douroux and 19-year-old Andre Davis, an African-American, who had lived in Chicago until recently when he came to live with his father in Rantoul.
Davis, who was shirtless, told them he had spent the day with the Tuckers drinking at their home and that he had changed into red pants and came to Douroux’s residence when the Tuckers left around 6 p.m. He explained a scratch on his side by saying he and Douroux had been wrestling in the yard. Davis also said he had climbed a tree to pick some apples.
Police took Davis to a hospital where he was examined. An officer saw grass in his groin area and a physician later would testify that he detected fecal matter under Davis's foreskin. Swabs of his legs were negative for the presence of blood and semen.
Douroux, who grew up with the Tucker brothers in Gary, Indiana, was also a suspect briefly and would, over the years, giving varying accounts of statements he claimed Davis made.
Authorities took hair samples from him for comparison with hairs found on the child's body. The hairs found on the body were not similar to either Davis's or Douroux's hair.
Davis was then arrested. He was charged with felony murder for killing the child during the commission of rape, taking indecent liberties with a child and aggravated kidnapping. He was also charged with murdering the child by asphyxiation.
Davis went on trial in Champaign County Circuit Court in 1981 and the prosecution sought the death penalty.
Douroux testified that after being out most of the day, he arrived home and saw Davis come out from under a trailer. He said Davis spontaneously said that he had killed a white woman who lived next door to Lutellis Tucker. Douroux testified that because Davis appeared drunk, he did not believe him. He said he telephoned the Tucker residence to prove there had been no murder and when there was no answer, he went to the home. That was when he crossed paths with Spragg and found the child’s body.
Douroux also testified that he was the one who suggested police go to 1056 Eastview. He said he returned to his home before the police arrived and told Davis “that was a little girl – that was not a woman.” Douroux testified that Davis replied, “It’s a little late for that; you got to help me get away.”
Davis, police said, was watching television when they arrived, appeared calm and did not try to flee. When asked for identification, he produced a Social Security card.
Maurice and Lutellis Tucker testified that Davis had been at the house during the day and left when they left at about 6 p.m. Both said he was wearing blue jeans and a shirt when he left. Lutellis Tucker testified that the house was his and that Maurice lived in the utility room. He said that on the day of the crime, he left to run errands and when he returned, he found his brother, Maurice, and Davis and they had been drinking. Lutellis said he had plans to leave town, but before he left, he saw Davis leaving on foot.
Maurice Tucker testified that Davis sometimes stayed with them and that he kept a bag of clothing at their house. He said he had spent the day drinking with Davis and that before he left, he and Davis saw Brianna. Maurice Tucker said he spoke to the girl, but that Davis did not. Maurice Tucker said that the utility room had been disturbed after he left and that a pair of jeans found on the floor belonged to Davis.
The prosecution presented evidence that the victim and Davis both had blood type O and that the semen found was from a non-secretor. Davis is a non-secretor, as is about 20 percent of the population.
Hairs found on the body of the victim were characterized as coming from an African-American, but none were comparable to Davis, the Tuckers or Douroux.
A physician testified that he examined Davis and found fecal matter under his foreskin, which the prosecution argued was further evidence connecting him to the rape because fecal matter was found in the girl's anal area. A physician testified for the defense that there was no fecal matter because when the matter was cultured, no bacteria consistent with fecal matter were produced.
In processing the crime scene, police found Brianna's underpants in clothing that was scattered about the room. No blood or semen were found on the girl's underpants. A search of the house revealed a window in the bathroom had been broken from the outside (glass was in the bathtub below the window) and a bloody paper towel was found on the bathroom sink.
An investigator for the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement testified that he questioned Davis and asked him if he killed a three-year-old girl. The investigator said Davis replied, “It’s possible.”
But the investigator also conceded that he might have taken the remark out of context because he asked Davis if it was possible that someone could be so drunk they could kill someone and not remember it. The investigator said that Davis also repeatedly denied any involvement in the crime. The interrogation was not recorded.
A 13-year-old boy testified for the defense that at about 7 p.m., he saw an African-American man walk out of the back door of the Tucker’s house, duck down by a car parked in the driveway and then walk down the street. The boy was unable to identify the man from a photo lineup that included Davis.
A friend of Maurice Tucker’s testified that when she arrived around 5 p.m. to go out with the brothers, Davis was wearing red pants.
A neighbor of Douroux's testified that Douroux came home close to 8 p.m. and was only home for a few minutes before he left again.
On the evening of January 21, 1981, the jury convicted Davis on all counts. The jurors were allowed to go home for the night, but were ordered to return the following day for the sentencing hearing.
The next day, lawyers for Davis filed a motion for mistrial asserting that during deliberations, the jury had asked for a transcript. The bailiff replied they might get one by mid-summer and never communicated the request to the judge.
After a hearing, the judge denied the mistrial motion. When the jury could not unanimously agree on the death penalty, Davis was sentenced to life in prison.
On April 8, 1982, the Illinois Court of Appeals set aside the conviction and sentence because of the bailiff’s failure to notify the judge of the jury’s request.
Davis went to trial again in June, 1983 and Doroux provided a different account. He testified for the first time that when Davis first brought up the subject of a murder that day, he asked what Douroux thought residents of Rantoul would do to a black man who killed a white woman.
Douroux testified that when he questioned Davis further, Davis then said he had been in the Tucker residence when the white woman who lived next door came over and they were sitting on the bed in the utility room talking. Douroux said Davis told him the woman's husband knocked on the back door and when she tried to get up, he put his hand over her mouth.
Douroux had never before testified to Davis making those statements and none of those alleged statements were recorded in any police report. Davis would later deny making any of the statements attributed to him by Douroux.
On June 10, 1983, Davis was convicted again of all charges. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. That conviction was upheld in April 1984.
Two decades later, a relative of Brianna's who had long harbored a suspicion that Davis was innocent, wrote to him in prison, suggesting he contact the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law to seek DNA testing.
Davis wrote a letter and on February 17, 2004, Jane Raley, an attorney at the Center, filed a motion for DNA testing of the biological evidence in the case.
An agreed order for testing was entered and the tests excluded Davis as the source of the blood or semen evidence. The bloody paper towel found in the bathroom with the broken window was not tested as it had been lost.
The DNA tests excluded Davis as the source of any of the samples that were tested, and isolated the profiles of two unknown males.
DNA was then obtained from Maurice and Lutellis Tucker, who were both living in Minnesota; Douroux, who was living in Texas, and Spragg.
The DNA profile of Maurice Tucker matched most of the biological evidence. Spragg, Lutellis Tucker and Douroux were excluded, leaving the profile of one male unidentified.
In July 2006, a petition to vacate the conviction was filed citing the DNA test results as well as evidence showing that what had been characterized as fecal matter was instead smegma, a secretion sometimes found under the foreskin of uncircumcised males such as Davis.
Champaign County prosecutors argued that finding Maurice Tucker's DNA was meaningless because he slept in the bed where the body was found. However, further testing by Forensic Science Associates of California showed that Tucker's DNA was mixed in with the child's blood and on top of the child's body.
A judge denied the petition on February 22, 2011, ruling that the new evidence “did not undermine confidence in the outcome” of the trial because Davis could have been an accomplice with Michael Tucker and that he failed to ejaculate.
Davis appealed. The state argued that Davis had failed to pursue his claim of innocence diligently because DNA testing was available as early as 1996 and he did not file a motion to obtain testing until 2004.
Lawyers for Davis pointed out that Davis was incarcerated in the Tamms Correctional Center, the state’s most secure prison, had no lawyer and was indigent.
On March 5, 2012, the Illinois Appeals Court overturned the denial of the petition and ordered a new trial. On July 6, 2012, the Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charges and Davis was released after spending nearly 32 years in prison.
Davis filed a federal wrongful conviction lawsuit against Rantoul and Illinois state police officers.
– Maurice Possley