Jim Dey: Fact-averse prosecutor doubles down on guilt theory

Jim Dey: Fact-averse prosecutor doubles down on guilt theory

Nearly 33 years after his arrest for the murder of a 3-year-old Rantoul girl, Andre Davis heard the word he's wanted to hear: innocent.

It came this week in an innocence petition approved by Judge John Kennedy, absolving the 51-year-old Davis of involvement in the death of Brianna Stickel, who was kidnapped from her front yard, raped and murdered. The finding is no surprise, considering that Davis was freed from a life sentence after another man's DNA was tied to the crime.

But don't tell that to Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz. She's madder than a wet hen over suggestions that Davis is innocent, even though she declined either to retry Davis for murder or challenge his innocence petition.

Rietz reiterated her suspicions this week, taking to WDWS radio to explain why she suspects Davis is guilty and the man whose DNA was discovered at the crime scene is not.

Rietz was responding to last week's column challenging her judgment on the issue. She charged the column "misses a number of key pieces of evidence."

It's a complicated case.

Brianna Stickel disappeared around 7 p.m. on Aug. 8, 1980. A couple hours later, her body was discovered in the bedroom of a house next door at 1112 Eastlawn Drive, where Lutellis "Sonny" Tucker and his brother, Maurice Tucker, lived.

Police focused on Davis, then 19, after another man, Donald Douroux, said Davis admitted killing "a white woman" at the residence. Davis' conviction was based on scientific testimony that included Davis among the 20 percent of the population who could have been the source of the semen stains discovered at the crime scene as well as testimony from four witnesses — Douroux, the Tucker brothers and Ida Parker — placing him at the crime scene.

Davis, a Chicago resident visiting his father in Rantoul, had spent the day there with the Tucker brothers.

In 2004, the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions requested DNA testing on semen and blood stains from the crime scene. A series of tests revealed that Maurice Tucker was the source of the DNA, not Davis.

Prosecutors fought to keep Davis in prison. But a state appeals court unanimously overturned his conviction, and Davis was released last summer.

Hindsight demonstrates police were fooled by lying witnesses and scientific testimony the appellate court described as "not only misleading but false."

Rietz, however, disagrees. She admits she can't prove it but argues Davis is guilty and Maurice Tucker is not.

She has an innocent explanation for Tucker's DNA. It was found in his bedding, and he could have left it there on some occasion prior to the child's death.

But her theory has a problem. Tucker's semen and Brianna Stickel's blood, which were found next to the child's body, were fresh. "Multiple witnesses testified to the presence of wet stains on the bedding described either as bloodstained or clear and sticky," the appellate court wrote.

There's more.

"The DNA expert's affidavit noted the semen was mixed with the victim's blood and in some instances it was on top of her blood on the bedding. He concluded the deposits of blood and semen could only have occurred at the same time," the appellate court stated.

The obvious conclusion is that the child and Tucker were present at the same time — he the predator and she the prey.

But Rietz asserts the DNA test results are unreliable.

"The DNA evidence is something that was obtained by their (the defense) expert, Andre Davis' expert," Rietz said.

Rietz charged the examiner conducted an unreliable "eyeball" test before concluding the semen and blood were mixed together. She said she consulted with state experts who told her that there is "no test to show that one stain is on top of another stain, particularly after 30 years."

But Rietz's characterization of the DNA evidence is false. Three firms — Orchid Cellmark, Forensic Science Associates and Serological Research Institute — conducted the DNA testing.

Brian Wraxall of Serological Research Associates was the prosecution expert.

Joint findings from the three firms revealed a mixture of Tucker's and the child's DNA on the fitted sheet, flat sheet and mattress pad where the body was found. They were presented to the court in an eight-page "Joint Statement of Undisputed Material Facts" signed by Jane Raley, Davis' lawyer, and Steven Ziegler, Rietz's top assistant.

In other words, Rietz's first assistant accepted the DNA evidence Rietz disparages. The appellate court further stated that "this testimony was not refuted by any other evidence."

Obviously wrong on the DNA evidence, Rietz has another defense for Tucker.

"Maurice Tucker has an alibi," said Rietz, indicating Tucker "wasn't there" when the child was killed because he "left with a woman."

Rietz is correct that Ida Parker testified that she left 1112 Eastlawn with Maurice Tucker in the afternoon, well before the child was snatched. The state's attorney seems to find that dispositive. But "Parker said they all (the Tucker brothers and Andre Davis) left the house, with defendant (Andre Davis) leaving first," the appellate court wrote.

Rietz is cherry-picking Parker's testimony, citing Parker testimony that supports her theory and ignoring Parker testimony that doesn't.

Why would a prosecutor who swears allegiance to pursue justice do that?

Perhaps because it's easier to torture facts to get desired results than accept the fallibility of a legal system run by fallible people? Perhaps because knowing a child was brutally murdered and the wrong man imprisoned while the guilty man lives free in Minneapolis/St. Paul would make it hard to sleep at night?

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 351-5369.

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Loren Anderson wrote on May 11, 2013 at 10:05 am
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Rietz' allegiance, her willingness to stay the course, has entertainment value, keeping the rest of us, her audience, who HEAR the voice of reason, from getting too bored.  Puttin' on the Rietz.

rsp wrote on May 11, 2013 at 10:05 pm

I keep wondering what that man has been up to all these years. Who else is willing to look the other way for him. What other little girls have had to suffer.

787 wrote on May 11, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Is Julia Reitz the best that Champaign County has to offer as State's Attorney?



Local Yocal wrote on May 12, 2013 at 4:05 am
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Glad to see Jim Dey and The News-Gazette are beginning to wake up to the reality that is Champaign County "justice." This case is but the tip of a 30-year iceberg that has many skeletons in the closet such as Andre Davis. Odd that Beamon, (a white guy) got his innocent petition immediately, whereas there is all this "key evidence" in Davis' case.

Dey's theory of the case, the reasons that Davis languished in solitary confinement at Tamms for 8 extra years after the DNA evidence cleared his name, was not, as Dey has suggested in recent radio appearances, "...the legal system is just a slow slog sometimes..." The real reasons for Davis' unjust and unnecessary imprisonment for these 8 extra years was because prosecutors like Rietz and Judge Leonard hid the truth, argued falsely, and did what Dey has finally decided to publish. Champaign County prosecutors CHOSE to argue against Davis and that is why this county should be held accountable for the 8 X $35,000-a-year of tax dollars that wrongly accused Davis. 

There are hundreds of cases like these coming out of this courthouse, but unlike Davis and other exonerations, most wrongly convicted people from this county DON'T have adequate legal representation and almost all the prosecutions in Champaign County are against indigent defendants, unable to afford investigators and attorneys who will go to the mat for their client. (Don't believe Rietz chooses to only prosecute the poor? Check the number of cases her office handles per year against how many cases the Public Defender handles per year.)

The first order of business to improve public safety in Champaign County is to protect the public FROM prosecutors like Rietz, Piland, Difanis and police officers like pepper spray Simons, beater Lieb, angry drunk Staples, torturer Sgt. Myers, rapist Hjort, killer Finney, ect. Difanis/Rietz are willing to hide officers who engage in misconduct, falsify evidence, and give false testimony in court. This system must provide an adequate defense for the public against these tyrannies.

The Public Defender's office has no investigator, each felony attorney handles over 450 cases a year (American Bar Association Standards recommend an attorney handle only 150 a year to ensure quality representation); whereas Rietz' office has twice the money, 2 investigators, 17 attorneys, and over 300 police officers at their command.

Forget building more jail. Fund the Public Defender's office now. The Andre Davis case proves why.

Davis' initial conviction can be forgiven, the science was not as good, and it's difficult for attorneys to sort through witnesses willing to perjure themselves. But after 2004, it's raw deception on the part of Rietz et al. that keeps Davis in prison.

This is nothing new out of Rietz' office. The original defense attorney in the Davis case from 1980, McClellan, can tell you of another case that occurred in 2004, just days after Rietz was first elected where a young man was beaten and then tortured by correctional officer Myers with a taser while in the jail, and Rietz accepted a falsified police report from Myers to flip the script to say the young man was guilty of a felony aggravated battery to a peace officer.

There are many families in this community that have been affected by the deception and exaggerated charging instruments deployed in Champaign County. To compound the problem further, many readers of The News-Gazette notice how a few white middle class people who engage in horrendous sexual crimes or the same drug crimes get lenient-to-no punishment compared to the poor and minorities.  

Fallible system run by fallible people? Okay, but what other profession can hide it, profit from it, and even be rewarded with an editorial endorsement from the only newspaper in town for re-election? This newspaper even accepts that it cannot see the police reports anymore, thanks to Rietz' insult over the reporting about the Myers case.

This is the second time Dey has stepped out of the comfy zone to report the facts (Dey's first foray into the reality of Champaign County law enforcement was in support of Larry Martin in Southwest Champaign, March 29, 2009)  We'll see if The News-Gazette can stay the course against Schenk's and Rietz' counterspin to the ugly wet hens that is the Champaign County criminal justice system.