URBANA — A man who was convicted of a 1980 Rantoul murder and served 32 years in prison before new DNA evidence led to his release has been granted a certificate of innocence in Champaign County Circuit Court.
The order was signed Wednesday by Associate Judge John Kennedy and made public Thursday.
In his order, Kennedy wrote that Andre Davis, now 51, "is innocent of the offenses charged" and "did not by his own conduct voluntarily cause or bring about his conviction."
Kennedy also ordered the circuit clerk of Champaign County, the Illinois State Police and the Rantoul Police Department to either seal or expunge "all records of arrest" related to Davis' case.
Davis was sentenced to life in prison for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 3-year-old Brianna Stickel. Released from prison last summer after a state appeals court overturned his conviction, Davis lives and works in Chicago.
Davis' conviction was unanimously overturned after DNA testing not available at the time of his trial was linked to one of the prosecution's witnesses, Maurice Tucker. Tucker lived with his brother, Sonny Tucker, in the residence where the child's body was found.
Her body was found on the bed in Maurice Tucker's bedroom. Next to the body, investigators found "semen mixed with the victim's blood." DNA testing 34 years later revealed that the source of the DNA was Maurice Tucker, a circumstance that not only cleared Davis but undermined the original prosecution theory of the case.
Tucker now lives in Minnesota. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz said the passage of so much time since the murder makes it impossible to retry the case.
Davis filed his request for a certificate of innocence in February, a move that could have led to a full-scale hearing on the issue.
Rietz announced last week that her office would not oppose the petition. Because there was no opposition, Kennedy granted Davis' petition.
Kennedy's decision paves the way for Davis to receive roughly $200,000 in state compensation for his decades of incarceration.
Petitions of innocence are new to Illinois law and were established by the General Assembly after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich ignored his duty to consider pardon requests during his six years in office.
The civil, as opposed to criminal, process requires petitioners like Davis to show by a preponderance of the evidence that they are innocent. That burden of proof is considerably lower than that in criminal courts, where prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.