Man sues over wrongful conviction
The 30-plus-year saga of a man wrongfully convicted of the 1980 murder of a Rantoul girl continued Friday when he filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court alleging authorities conspired to convict him of a crime he did not commit.
Lawyers for the 51-year-old Andre Davis, a Chicago resident, filed the lawsuit at the U.S. District Courthouse in Urbana and will pursue their claims on Davis' behalf before federal Judge Harold Baker. The lawsuit names eight individuals or entities as defendants.
They are the village of Rantoul, Provena Covenant Medical Center, Presence Covenant Medical Center, and Dr. Jose Raquel as well as four law officers — former Rantoul Police Chief Eldon Quick, former Rantoul police Officers Larry Zonfrilli and Montgomery Portis, and former Illinois State Police Detective Michael Robb.
Davis was released from prison just a year ago after a state appeals court overturned his conviction on the basis of DNA evidence that implicated another man in the death of 3-year-old Brianna Stickel. Davis served 32 years behind bars.
Just two months ago, Champaign County Associate Judge John Kennedy granted Davis' request for a certificate of innocence, a formal declaration that Davis played no role in the child's death.
The source of the DNA evidence has been identified as Maurice Tucker, a resident of 1112 Eastview Drive in Rantoul. The child's body was found in Maurice Tucker's bedroom.
The lawsuit alleges that "despite evidence linking Brianna's (death to) next door neighbor, Maurice Tucker, the defendant police officers failed to pursue Tucker at the time of the crime, and instead coerced, manipulated and fabricated evidence to create a false case against (Tucker)."
A statement announcing the filing of the lawsuit quoted Davis as saying that "I feel that those who are responsible for robbing me of the best years of my life should be held responsible for doing me so terribly wrong."
"That is my main goal in filing this lawsuit," Davis said.
Flint Taylor, Davis' lawyer and a prominent member of the Chicago legal community, said the lawsuit is necessary to "obtain just compensation for the terrible injustice" done to Davis.
"While Mr. Davis cannot recover his lost freedom by pursuing this lawsuit, he can establish that the Village of Rantoul and the individual named conspirators are responsible for his suffering," Taylor said.
The lawsuit does not seek specific monetary compensation. But in a brief interview with The News-Gazette, Taylor said his experience with similar cases compensation shows that judgments average between $500,000 and $1 million for each year of incarceration.
If that estimate were to hold in Davis' case, he would receive anywhere from $16 million to $32 million. Those sums are far in excess of the estimated $200,000 in compensation Davis is expected to receive from the state based on his receipt of the declaration of innocence.
The child disappeared from her front yard at 1110 Eastlawn Drive in the early evening of Aug. 8, 1980. Her body was found in the next-door residence of a house occupied by Maurice Tucker and his brother, Lutellis "Sonny" Tucker, about two hours after her disappearance by a third man, Donald Douroux.
Douroux, a friend of the Tucker brothers, told police that Andre Davis had told him he had killed a "white woman" at the residence.
Davis was twice convicted of murder in the case. His first conviction was overturned because of a bailiff error involving the jury. After his second conviction, Davis was sentenced to life in prison.
It was not until many years later that Davis, assisted by lawyers from the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Conviction, won a court order to conduct DNA testing on the bedding where the child's body was found. Prosecution and defense experts agreed that the DNA found in the bedding came from Maurice Tucker, not Davis.
Maurice Tucker is believed to be living in Minnesota. Prosecutors have said they have no intention of charging him in the case.
In addition to charging police officers with a variety of forms of misconduct, the lawsuit names Raquel and the hospitals in connection with Raquel's role in the investigation and trial. An emergency room physician, Raquel examined Davis after his arrest and falsely told authorities he found fecal material from the victim "underneath (Davis's) foreskin." Raquel testified to that effect before the jury, although the defense was able to blunt the impact of his testimony.
Subsequent scientific tests revealed it was not fecal material, but smegma, a foul-smelling secretion common to that portion of the human body.
"But for the defendants' misconduct, (Davis) would have been neither prosecuted nor convicted," the lawsuit alleges.
The strongest evidence against Davis came in two forms. First was Douroux's testimony that Davis had told him he had killed someone at the Eastlawn residence.
Second was scientific testimony showing Davis was in a pool of 20 percent of the population who could have been a source of the fresh semen stains on the bed where the child's body was found. Much more sophisticated DNA testing in 2004 identified Maurice Tucker as the source of the DNA and excluded Davis.