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Ricky Davis

Other California exonerations with inadequate legal defense
In the early morning hours of July 7, 1985, 54-year-old Jane Hylton, a columnist for the Foothills Times newspaper, was found stabbed to death in a home in El Dorado Hills, California. Hylton and her 13-year-old daughter, Autumn, had come to stay temporarily in the home on July 5 because Hylton was having problems with her husband.

The home belonged to the grandmother of 20-year-old Ricky Davis, who also was living there with his 19-year-old girlfriend, Connie Dahl. Davis’s mother, Maureen Klein, and Klein’s boyfriend also were living there.

On July 6, the day after Hylton and her daughter arrived, Klein and her boyfriend went camping. That night, Autumn went out with some friends, while Davis and Dahl went to a local party.

Autumn returned about 2:30 a.m. Because she was late and feared getting in trouble with her mother, she waited outside until close to 3:30 a.m., when Davis and Dahl came home. They went into the house together and went upstairs. Autumn went to her room, and then heard a scream. Davis and Dahl had discovered Hylton on Davis’s mother’s bed covered with blood.

The medical examiner, Dr. Robert Anthony, said that Hylton suffered bruising on her cheeks, eye, nose, upper lip, and jaw, several defensive wounds to her arms and fingers, and a bite on her back upper left shoulder.

Autumn told the police that her stepfather, Archie Hylton, had been fighting with her mother over finances and family cars. She said her mother told her that the arguments with Archie had become physical in the past. Autumn told the police that her mother was afraid of him and that she believed Archie was capable “of doing such a thing to her mother."

Hours later, police arrested Archie Hylton as he was leaving his home. Told he was under arrest on suspicion of murder, Hylton asked who he was supposed to have killed. Informed his wife was dead, Hylton said the last time he talked to his wife was the morning of July 5 when she said she was going to stay with friends. He said he went to dinner at a Denny’s on the night of July 6 and then went home, where he stayed all night. Hylton was then released. He later provided hair and blood samples, but was not considered a suspect.

The day after the murder, Dahl called police to say she found a sheet, a hand towel, and two washcloths in the laundry basket that appeared to be blood-stained. She turned them over to police.

On January 9, 1986, Davis took a polygraph examination. The examiner said that the results indicated that Davis had some knowledge of the crime that he was not talking about, but that he was not responsible for the murder.

The murder was still unsolved in 1999, nearly 14 years later, when El Dorado County sheriff’s detectives Richard Strasser and Rick Fitzgerald were assigned to the cold case. They decided to start by interviewing Dahl in her home in Eugene, Oregon. This decision was apparently based on a news story published right after the murder that quoted Dahl as saying that Hylton appeared to be “lying in bed, like someone placed her there in the position she would normally sleep in.”

In addition, Fitzgerald had listened to the tape recording of Davis’s interview at the time of the crime, and now claimed that Davis said that he found Hylton “lying on the floor,” although Davis’s defense lawyers, after enhancing the tape, said it was still inaudible at that point in the conversation. The officers who conducted that interview had found nothing suspicious in anything that Davis said. Fitzgerald, however, believed that Davis’s statement implicated him because it suggested that Hylton’s body had been moved from the floor to the bed.

Their first interrogation of Dahl was in November 1999 and lasted three hours. Strasser and Fitzgerald told Dahl that they were looking into Davis as the person responsible for the murder. Dahl explained she had not spoken or written to Davis in 11 years. Strasser and Fitzgerald told Dahl that they reopened the investigation because of DNA testing, and that they could tell everything from the DNA evidence. In fact, no DNA testing had been done.

Dahl told the detectives that finding the body was the most horrifying experience she ever had and gave an account that was consistent with her police interview 14 years earlier. The detectives disputed her account and said that they knew that she was present in the house when the murder occurred.

The detectives threatened Dahl with a charge of murder and said that if she cooperated, she would be treated leniently. They showed her crime scene photographs and fed her numerous facts, including that Hylton was bitten during the attack.

By the time the interrogation ended, Dahl’s account had evolved to fit the facts the detectives fed to her. Now, Dahl said that Davis punched Hylton in the face during a fight about Autumn, which ultimately ended with Hylton’s death. Dahl said that she acted as a lookout, and that Autumn looked on as Davis stabbed Hylton to death. Dahl and Autumn then moved Hylton’s body from the floor to the bed, and all three left to buy alcohol and practice the story they would tell police.

Dahl was unable to describe the murder weapon, nor when and where Davis retrieved it. She also could not say where he disposed of the weapon and his bloody clothes.

One week later, the detectives interviewed Autumn and told her that Dahl had said Autumn was present when her mother was killed, and that Davis was a “monster, career criminal and dirt bag” who manipulated her and Dahl. Autumn told the detectives that all she remembered was returning home from a night out, waiting for Davis and Dahl in front of the house, entering the home with Davis and Dahl, going into the spare bedroom, and then hearing someone scream. She said she barely looked into the bedroom, but when she did, she saw her mother lying on the bed.

Fitzgerald told Autumn that he knew her hair was at the crime scene. He also said that there was a “clear bitemark” on her mother’s shoulder and he was not going to be surprised when it came back to her. Autumn insisted she was not present or involved in the murder, and that she had no reason to protect Davis.

On December 15, 1999, Strasser and Fitzgerald interviewed Davis at a federal prison, where he was serving a 12-year sentence for a 1997 federal bank robbery conviction in Citrus Heights, California. Davis gave an account similar to what he said right after the murder. The detectives then showed him a photograph of Hylton’s body and asked, “This is how you left her, wasn’t it?”

Fitzgerald told Davis he knew Davis had killed Hylton. He said that Dahl and Autumn told them what really happened, and DNA tests were now being done on the blood at the scene. Davis said the women were lying and that he did not kill Hylton.

On January 12, 2000, the detectives interrogated Dahl a second time. They started by showing her a video of the crime scene to refresh her memory. After watching the video, Dahl “remembered” more details, including that Hylton tried to use Dahl as a distraction to escape, that Hylton pled for her life during the fight, and that Autumn watched Davis kill her mother.

Dahl now said that Davis was covered in blood and that Autumn was “sprayed” in blood. Dahl said that Autumn and Davis showered and changed into different clothes after the murder, and that Hylton’s body was stiffening when they were moving her. Dahl claimed that she now believed that Davis had planned the murder all along.

At one point, Dahl said she used methamphetamine and drank alcohol on the night of the murder and had been up for a couple of days. She later said that Davis must have stolen her methamphetamine and used it himself. Her timeline also varied; she said that Davis and Hylton fought anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour and a half before her death. However, Dahl still had no information about the murder weapon or what happened to the bloody clothes that they all would have had to have changed out of—evidence that law enforcement also knew nothing about.

Strasser and Fitzgerald told Dahl that Davis had killed Hylton because of Hylton’s violent tendencies towards women. They also said that the FBI was analyzing the saliva on the nightgown where the bite was and that it was going to be either Dahl’s or Autumn’s DNA.

On February 22, 2001, the detectives interrogated Dahl a third time. They told her that if she told them everything, she would still be able to go home to her kids and family. The detectives said the case was going to trial and that her credibility would determine whether she would either be sentenced for a “misdemeanor accessory type thing” or to being a “full blooded half partner” in the murder. Dahl asked to see pictures of the layout of the house to refresh her memory, admitted that her memory was “fuzzy” when she tried to remember specific details about the fight, and still could not account for the murder weapon or its disposal. Dahl now said that she got involved in the fight to try and stop Davis from hurting Hylton. Dahl also said that she was “pretty sure” she bit Hylton on the shoulder.

On May 21, 2002, the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint for murder against Davis and Dahl. On April 10, 2003, Deputy District Attorney Colin Anderson told Dahl that in exchange for her testimony against Davis, she could plead guilty to manslaughter and receive a prison term of from three to 11 years. That day, Dahl pled guilty.

Davis went to trial in April 2005 in El Dorado County Superior Court, but after a jury was selected, a mistrial was declared so that his defense attorney could investigate further. On July 12, Davis went to trial again. The prosecution’s case relied almost solely on testimony from Dahl and a jailhouse informant, and on DNA tests that showed a small amount of Davis’s blood outside the house. There was no way to know when that blood got there, and the defense argued that was not unusual because Davis lived in the home.

The prosecution argued that Davis had a “quick temper and a short fuse” and exploded over a “minor incident” that ended with the murder. Dahl testified that she had not implicated Davis in the past because she was afraid of him, and that he had hit her during their time together. She also testified that the detectives told her that she could get 15 years to life in prison and that it was her “golden opportunity” because “the first one to jump on the bandwagon always gets the easiest ride.” She said the detectives told her that “the train only comes to the station once.”

Dahl testified that Fitzgerald told her, “You know you saw this. You know you know what happened. It is all over with. You’ve got your babies. What are you going to teach those kids?”

Dahl admitted that during every interrogation, she was under the influence of methamphetamine.

Dr. Anthony, the medical examiner, said that Hylton’s body had been moved from the floor to the bed after her death. He explained that he formed this opinion after the detectives showed him the crime scene photographs on October 14, 1999, 14 years after he performed the autopsy. Dr. Anthony testified that Hylton’s body had been moved after she had been dead for “a period of time,” which conflicted with Dahl’s story that she, Davis, and Autumn moved the body immediately after Hylton was killed.

FBI forensic examiner Alan Giusti testified that in December 1999, he performed DNA analysis on evidence collected from the scene. He determined that DNA from two small drops of blood adjacent to the doorbell and a blood smear collected from the front doorstep of the Klein home revealed a profile consistent with Davis. The prosecution argued that this showed that not only did Davis stab Hylton, but that he cut himself during the murder.

Giusti also testified that Hylton’s right and left-hand fingernail scrapings revealed only Hylton’s DNA. But he also testified that unknown male DNA was found on a fingernail that apparently had been ripped from Hylton’s hand as she fought her attacker.

Giusti said that two cuttings from a white towel found by Dahl the day after the murder revealed a mixture of DNA with Dahl the major contributor and an unknown minor contributor. Giusti said the minor contributor results were largely inconclusive, but based on the limited information revealed, he could neither include nor exclude Davis as a source.

After Davis and Dahl were charged with the crime in 2002, Davis’s then-girlfriend was in custody on an unrelated charge. Kristin Webb, who was also in the jail at the time, testified at the trial that the girlfriend told her that Davis had admitted that he committed the murder.

However, the girlfriend also testified and denied that Davis ever admitted to the killing and denied she ever said so to Webb.

Davis testified and denied involvement in the crime. Several defense witnesses testified that they went to parties in the 1980’s with Dahl and Davis, but none could remember specifically the night of the crime. The witnesses said that police had never interviewed them at the time, even though Davis had provided detectives with their names.

Hylton’s daughter, Autumn, testified and denied being present when her mother was killed. She provided the same account as she did on the night of the crime—that she came home late and remained outside before entering the house with Davis and Dahl when they discovered her mother’s body.

On August 17, 2005, the jury convicted Davis of second-degree murder. The following day, Dahl, who had pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter, was sentenced to one year in prison. She was released immediately having already served more than a year. One month later, Davis was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.

In November 2007, the California Court of Appeal for the Third District upheld Davis’s conviction. Davis, acting as his own lawyer, filed state law petitions for a writ of habeas corpus in 2009 and 2010. Both petitions were denied.

In 2012, the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University Law School was appointed to represent Davis. Subsequently the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office agreed to DNA testing of Hylton’s nightgown.

In 2014, the testing of the nightgown revealed saliva in the area of the bitemark. The testing showed that the person who bit Hylton was not Dahl or Davis, but some unknown male. In addition, testing of fingernail scrapings from Hylton’s right hand revealed a male profile consistent with the male DNA found on the nightgown. The unidentified male profile was uploaded into the FBI Combined Index DNA System (CODIS), but no identification was made.

Dahl, meanwhile, had died of a methamphetamine overdose in March 2014. In 2015, Richard Leo, a false confession expert, reviewed the transcripts of Dahl’s interrogations. Leo concluded that the detectives’ interrogations of Dahl were “designed…to pressure and persuade Dahl to adopt an account that matched [the detectives] pre-existing beliefs about how and why the murder of Jane Hylton occurred.”

In October 2016, Northern California Innocence Project attorney Melissa O’Connell filed a petition for a new trial on behalf of Davis, based on the DNA test results. In April 2019, Judge Kenneth Melekian vacated Davis’s conviction and ordered a new trial.

On February 13, 2020, the prosecution dismissed the charge and announced that the DNA had been linked to 52-year-old Michael Green, who was one of three young men with Autumn on the night her mother was murdered. Green, who was arrested and charged with the murder, was linked to the crime through the use of genetic genealogy.

Judge Kenneth Melekian granted a prosecution motion to vacate the conviction and dismiss the case. “You’re factually innocent,” the judge declared, and Davis was released.

In April 2020, Davis was awarded $480,000 in compensation from the state of California. In August 2020, he filed a lawsuit against El Dorado County in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

In 2022, Green pled no contest to second-degree murder. In September 2022, he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. On June 28, 2024, Lisette Suder, an El Dorado County assistant district attorney, appeared before El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Larry E. Hayes, and requested that Dahl’s conviction be vacated.

Dahl’s sons, Jarred and Nick Lange, appeared in court, as did Davis, who urged Judge Hayes to agree to the motion. “I want to see her vindicated. She was as innocent as I was. She was railroaded in a different way,” Davis said.

Judge Hayes vacated the conviction, dismissed the case, and declared Dahl factually innocent.

“My condolences to the family and to the people who have been traumatized by this whole situation,” the judge said. “But I hope you walk out of the courtroom with finally justice being done in the correct way.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/5/2020
Last Updated: 7/3/2024
County:El Dorado
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1985
Sentence:16 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes