Jim Dey: Exonerated of 1 murder; charged in another
In May 2013, onetime convicted murderer Andre Davis went to court in Champaign County to receive a judicial certificate of innocence, officially clearing him of involvement in the 1980 murder of a 3-year-old Rantoul girl.
Five months later, Chicago authorities allege, Davis participated in the murder of 19-year-old Jamal Harmon after a dispute at a dice game.
Having served 32 years in prison for a murder that DNA evidence shows he didn't commit, the 52-year-old Chicago man stands on the precipice of another long prison term for a new killing.
Davis, who is being held without bond in the Cook County Jail, was arrested June 11 following a nine-month investigation into the death of a young man whose body was found about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 7 in a Chicago alley. The victim sustained gunshot and knife wounds.
"There isn't anything I can really say," said Andre's father, Richard Davis of Rantoul. "I'm shocked."
Jane Raley, a lawyer for the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions who represented Andre Davis in his successful quest to overturn his conviction, was equally stunned.
"I don't know what to say. I really don't," she said.
Such is the reaction to the stunning news that a man who fought a wrongful conviction for murder is back in court.
In addition to the murder charge, Davis faces a charge of kidnapping.
A second man, 37-year-old Derrick Hilliard, was also charged with murder and unlawful use of weapons by a convicted felon in connection with Harmon's death.
Cook County prosecutor Robert Mack said the shooting stemmed from a dispute that occurred after Davis attended a party hosted by a man identified as Davis' nephew. But Davis' father said "there is no nephew" and "I don't have a clue" to whom police are referring.
Whatever their relationship, Mr. Harmon and the man identified as Davis' nephew got into a dispute over money and the man identified as the nephew shot him. Authorities said Davis volunteered to dispose of Mr. Harmon, who was still alive. He allegedly placed Mr. Harmon in the trunk of a car and drove off.
Mack quoted a witness as saying that Davis told the witness he had stabbed Mr. Harmon before dumping the body.
The elder Davis said he attended the Cook County court hearing where his son was arraigned but that he has not had a chance to speak with him. Andre Davis is scheduled to return to court July 2.
In arguing that Davis should remain in custody, the Chicago prosecutor noted his conviction for the 1980 murder of 3-year-old Brianna Stickel in Rantoul. In response, Davis told Judge Adam Bourgeois that he had been exonerated of involvement in the child's murder by DNA evidence.
DNA evidence was not available at the time Davis was convicted in the Rantoul case. Subsequent testing showed that DNA recovered from the bedding in the room where her body was found came from Maurice Tucker, who lived in the house with his brother, Lutellis "Sonny" Tucker.
Despite the DNA evidence, local authorities have never charged Maurice Tucker in the case. He's believed to be living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
Then 19 and living in Chicago, Davis was visiting his father in Rantoul at the time of the child's death. He had spent the day with the Tucker brothers and said he had left their residence by early evening and before the child, who lived next door with her family, was snatched from her front yard.
In addition to receiving a certificate of innocence and a $200,000 payment from the state for the time he spent behind bars, Andre Davis has filed a federal civil lawsuit against local law-enforcement officers. Davis' civil lawyer, Flint Taylor, did not respond to News-Gazette inquiries regarding his client's arrest.
In previous interviews with The News-Gazette, Davis said he spent a difficult 32 years in prison, targeted both by fellow inmates and guards because of his conviction for child rape and murder. But he said he learned to be "quite good" at defending himself. Davis also said that prison culture demanded that inmates deal forcefully with any show of disrespect from other inmates.
"In prison, there are only a couple of ways of conflict resolution — they are aggression (in speech) and violence," he said.
Ultimately, Davis was sent to the super-maximum-security prison in Tamms. He spent 23 hours a day in his cell for 14 years before his release on July 6, 2012.
He would still be behind bars if his lawyers had not persuaded local prosecutors to pursue DNA testing of the evidence.
In 2004, scientific evidence revealed that semen found at the crime scene that was believed to have come from Davis actually came from Maurice Tucker. Despite that disclosure, prosecutors fought Davis' release. Ultimately, a state appeals court overturned his conviction. After prosecutors decided not to retry the case, Davis was released from jail.
Davis' father said his son was working on a construction job and that he has seen him regularly since his release. In a December 2012 interview, Davis said he was reveling in his freedom.
"I can honestly say I'm a happy man," he said.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at email@example.com or at 351-5369.