In the early morning hours of June 18, 2007, 36-year-old Jeramie Davis and his sister called police from the Best Buy Adult Entertainment store to report finding the store’s owner, 74-year-old John Allen, lying on the floor with his head bashed in with a baseball bat.
Police quickly focused on Davis, a janitor, who had a lengthy criminal record for non-violent offenses.
Police found numerous adult videos and sex toys in Davis’s car. At first, Davis denied taking anything from the store, but then admitted he had been to the store before midnight on June 17, and found Allen lying on the floor. Davis said he thought Allen was drunk and had passed out. He admitted he took about $200 in cash as well as the videos and other items, but denied that he struck Allen with the bat, which was found under Allen’s body.
Davis said that he left the store and then returned later with a friend to take more items, at which point he became concerned about Allen’s condition and got his sister, who accompanied him to the store about 2 a.m. When they got close to Allen, they saw blood and called 911. Allen died the following day.
Davis was arrested and charged with first degree murder, burglary and trafficking in stolen property. Davis maintained he was innocent of the murder, though he admitted that he had stolen property from the store.
By the time Davis went on trial in February 2008, DNA tests had been performed on the baseball bat and isolated the profile of an unknown person. Davis’s DNA was not on the bat and police could not find his fingerprints in the store.
A prostitute testified that on the night of the crime, Davis was her first customer. She said that he was counting a wad of cash and said that he had just “hit a lick,” a street term she said referred to a robbery. Another witness said that she and Davis spent the day of the crime stealing cash.
Police said that they found gloves in Davis’s car and the prosecution argued the gloves explained why none of Davis’s fingerprints or DNA was found in the store.
Davis’s attorney contended that “hit a lick” meant to come upon something for free—not a reference to a robbery. On February 13, 2008, a jury convicted Davis and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In 2011, a Spokane police detective received a call from the crime lab saying they were going to send the biological evidence in the case back to the evidence room. The detective, curious about the DNA profile that had not been linked to anyone, requested that the lab run the profile through the Washington State database of DNA profiles of convicted offenders.
In March 2011, the crime lab reported that the profile had matched Julio Davila, who was in prison and had a lengthy record of felony convictions. Detectives obtained a new DNA sample from Davila and the match was confirmed. Palm prints and fingerprints found in the store—which had been not been linked to anyone at the time of the murder—were matched to Davila as well.
Davila was charged with the murder of Allen and in July 2012, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Davis had previously written to the Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) at the University of Washington seeking help. After the DNA was linked to Davila, Davis’s family alerted IPNW, and IPNW lawyer Anna Tolin sought to vacate Davis’s conviction.
Two weeks after Davila was convicted, a judge granted that motion and set aside Davis’s conviction.
The prosecution said it would retry Davis under a new theory—that both men were involved in the murder and that Davila swung the bat. The state struck a deal with a jailhouse informant in an effort to support this theory.
IPNW partnered with Spokane attorney Kevin Curtis to prepare for Mr. Davis’ retrial. After a lengthy police investigation, no evidence could be found that Davis and Davila even knew each other, let alone committed a murder together.
On April 11, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the murder charge against Davis. Davis pled guilty to a charge of second-degree robbery for taking the items from the store while Allen was unconscious, and was sentenced to time served and released.
– Maurice Possley