URBANA — A man convicted of the 1980 murder of a 3-year-old girl moved a step closer to freedom Monday when the state appellate prosecutor's office declined to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to overturn a court ruling that reversed his conviction.
Andre Davis, just 19 when he was arrested for the murder of Brianna Stickle, will be returned within the next two weeks to Champaign County, where he will either be retried or have the charges against him dismissed.
Given the new DNA evidence, it appears unlikely that Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz will decide to retry Davis. Indeed, the bigger question is what Rietz will do now that another man's DNA has been linked to the case.
Rietz said Monday that she has assigned the case to Assistant State's Attorney Steve Ziegler and that she is "leaving the decision" on how to proceed to him.
Davis' conviction was overturned earlier this year by the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield, which found that DNA evidence unavailable at Davis' trial implicates another man, former Rantoul resident Maurice Tucker, in the child's murder.
Chicago lawyer Jane Raley, who is affiliated with Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, characterized the state's decision not to appeal as "wonderful news."
"I am overjoyed, thrilled that they're not appealing the case," Raley said. "To me, it means they are acknowledging that the evidence suggests Andre Davis' innocence and that they got the wrong man."
Lawyers from the appellate prosecutor's office in Springfield were not available for comment. Given the liability the state faces in a potential wrongful-conviction lawsuit, it's unlikely the state will acknowledge that Davis is actually innocent of the crime.
But Davis has repeatedly and vehemently stated that he was not involved in the child's death, most recently in a letter to The News-Gazette.
"My life was ruined over a crime I didn't commit," he wrote.
Davis also expressed satisfaction that the evidence paves the way for a new prosecution.
"I'm elated that Brianna's rape and murder is close to being solved," he wrote.
Brianne Stickle was snatched from her family's front yard at 1110 Eastview Drive about 6:30 p.m. Aug. 8, 1980. Her dead body was found several hours later in a bedroom of the house next door at 1112 Eastview Drive.
The child had been raped and suffocated.
Davis, who was visiting from Chicago, was at 1112 Eastview Drive that day, visiting and drinking with the residents of the house, the Tucker brothers.
Davis was arrested after another man, Donald Douroux, a longtime friend of the Tucker brothers, told police that Davis had told him that he had killed a "white woman" at the residence.
When Douroux went to the house to see what had happened, he encountered Brianna's parents, and they asked Douroux if he would allow them into the Tucker residence to see if their child was there.
The child's body was found shortly afterward by Douroux. In both of Davis' trials, defense lawyers sought to link Douroux to the crime. No one suggested at either trial that Maurice Tucker had any involvement.
At trial, prosecutors presented statements from Douroux and serological evidence far less sophisticated than the DNA now available that showed the mathematical probability that Davis could have been the source of the semen found at the crime scene.
Davis was subsequently convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison by then-Circuit Judge Robert Steigmann. Davis' conviction was overturned on appeal because the trial court bailiff had failed to deliver a message from jurors to Judge Steigmann.
Davis then was brought to trial a second time before Circuit Judge Harold Jensen. A jury again convicted Davis, and Jensen sentenced him to 80 years in prison.
Davis is being held at the Tamms Correctional Center — the state's super-maximum security prison, a facility where the worst of the state's worst-behaved inmates are held. But Davis denied having any behavioral issues and said he's being held at Tamms because "all convicted child molesters are open targets to everyone, including staff whom (sic) has incredible power over us."
"I can't count (the number of) attempts made on my life — and it's unimportant considering I'm very good at protecting myself," he wrote.