News, Culture & Society

Man convicted of murder 15 years ago is exonerated using genealogy databases as cops arrest killer

A California man convicted of murder 15 years ago will walk free later today as newly tested DNA evidence combined with the use of genealogical websites that helped to track down the Golden State Killer have led police to finally find and arrest the real killer.

Ricky Davis has been behind bars for 14 years for a crime he didn’t commit, after he was sentenced in 2005 to 16 years to life for the 1985 murder of Jane Hylton, who had been stabbed 29 times.  

Davis finally won his freedom Thursday when a judge threw out his second-degree murder conviction in an emotional court hearing in Placerville, where it was revealed that police had tracked down and arrested the ‘real killer’ by running the unidentified suspect’s DNA profile through genealogy websites. 

A new suspect called Michael Green was arrested Tuesday afternoon, prosecutors announced in a press conference after the court hearing Thursday.

Using genetic genealogy, unknown male DNA found on the victim has now been identified as belonging to one of the three boys that Hylton’s 13-year-old daughter Autumn Anker met the night her mother was murdered, El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said.

He added that the suspect was a juvenile when the crime took place.

Ricky Davis (above)

Ricky Davis (right) was sentenced in 2005 for the 1985 murder of Jane Hylton (left)

Hylton, a 54-year-old newspaper columnist for the Foothills Times, was found stabbed to death in the home in El Dorado Hills that she shared with Davis, then 20, Autumn and Davis’ girlfriend Connie Dahl, 19.

She had a bite mark on her left shoulder and her body appeared to have been moved. 

The 1985 case went unsolved for 14 years before investigators said DNA evidence – and Dahl’s incriminating confession – tied Davis to the slaying back in November 1999.

He was charged with her murder and convicted in 2005.  

A judge first overturned Davis’ conviction back in April, after newly-tested evidence found DNA from an unknown male on the victim’s nightgown and under her fingernails.

Davis was kept behind bars while awaiting a retrial. 

Now he will walk free later today as genealogical testing led police to identify the real killer and solve the 35-year-old crime. 

Pierson said new DNA evidence had led his office to reopen the case and that they were ‘very confident Mr. Davis was wrongfully accused and convicted of this crime.’

Pierson also told the court Thursday that Dahl’s confession, which was critical to Davis’ conviction, was ‘what I would characterize as an aggressive, confession-driven interrogation.’ 

El Dorado Superior Court Judge Kenneth Melekian told Davis Thursday that he is now ‘factually innocent’ of the murder.

Hylton, 54, had been stabbed at least 29 times in the Sacramento home she shared with Davis, her 13-year-old daughter Autumn Anker and Davis' girlfriend Connie Dahl

Hylton, 54, had been stabbed at least 29 times in the Sacramento home she shared with Davis, her 13-year-old daughter Autumn Anker and Davis’ girlfriend Connie Dahl

Davis at his trial. The case went unsolved for 14 years before investigators said DNA evidence and Dahl's confession tied Davis to the slaying back in November 1999

Davis at his trial. The case went unsolved for 14 years before investigators said DNA evidence and Dahl’s confession tied Davis to the slaying back in November 1999

The scene of the crime: A judge overturned Davis' conviction in April, after newly-tested evidence found DNA from an unknown male on the victim's nightgown and under her fingernails. Davis will finally be exonerated of Hylton's murder as genealogy testing has helped police track down the real killer, a law enforcement source said

The scene of the crime: A judge overturned Davis’ conviction in April, after newly-tested evidence found DNA from an unknown male on the victim’s nightgown and under her fingernails. Davis will finally be exonerated of Hylton’s murder as genealogy testing has helped police track down the real killer, a law enforcement source said

‘We don’t do this very often,’ Melekian said, adding that Davis is entitled to seek compensation for his wrongful conviction.  

According to The Sacramento Bee, Davis thanked the judge and hugged his family members who had joined him in court.

WHAT IS GENETIC GENEALOGY? 

In the past year, investigators across the country have embraced genetic genealogy, a DNA-dependent forensic technique that identifies suspects through their relatives. 

The technique involves cross-referencing the DNA profile of an unidentified suspect with public databases containing DNA from users who’ve submitted samples to consumer companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com to explore their family tree and get informed about potential genetic health concerns.  

Genetic genealogy gained notoriety through decades-old cold cases like the Golden State Killer, and police are now using it on fresh cases as well.  

While many are excited by what genetic genealogy means for the future of forensic investigations, others have expressed concerns about genetic privacy and policy procedures.  

The exonerated man is expected to walk out of jail today after paperwork is completed.  

Pierson revealed the identity of the new suspect Michael Green, after the new DNA evidence has been matched to the alleged killer by using genealogy websites.   

He said authorities had been able to discover that Davis was ‘wrongfully convicted’ and identify the new suspect as a product of ‘science-based interviews and genetic genealogy’. 

Pierson said that, using genealogy, the unknown male DNA found on the victim’s nightgown and under her fingernails has been identified as belonging to one of the three boys that Autumn had encountered that night.  

The victim’s daughter had met the three teenage boys earlier that night at a park.

She went back to the house, took a shower and changed and told her mom she was going to someone else’s house when she was actually meeting the three boys, Pierson said. 

The male DNA matched that of Michael Green, who is now in custody.

One of the other males, known as Calvin, is deceased.

The third individual Steven was located and interviewed Wednesday by authorities.

Steven is being treated as ‘not a participant’ but a potential ‘witness’, Pierson said. 

He added that prosecutors don’t believe Autumn was present during the attack and confirmed that she is not a person of interest in the case. 

Hylton’s mutilated body was found in the Sacramento home on July 7 1985. She had been stabbed 29 times. 

Hylton had moved into the house just one day before her murder, because of marital problems she was having with her husband Archie Hylton. 

Davis, Dahl and Autumn were all at the scene, deputies said. 

Davis and Dahl claimed they found the victim dead in an upstairs bedroom and called 911.

They told officers at the time that they had gone to a party the night before and had returned home at around 3:30 a.m. to find Autumn waiting outside for them, saying she was worried she would be told off by her mom for staying out late.

They said they then entered the property together to find the gruesome scene.

The only other key suspect was Hylton’s estranged husband who was questioned and cleared after he had a solid alibi. 

Autumn said at the time she had left the house that night and encountered three teenage boys – named Michael, Calvin and Steven or Brian – at a park. 

The day after the brutal murder, Dahl gave a reporter a tour of the crime scene, showing them ‘a bloody hand print on the wall’ and ‘where she believes the body must have been laid as if asleep is the way she describe it’, the reporter said.  

Genetic genealogy is a DNA-dependent forensic technique that identifies suspects through their relatives. It was used to catch Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr (above)

DeAngelo, 74, was finally arrested in April 2018 for at least 50 rapes and 12 murders across California dating back as far as 1975

Genetic genealogy is a DNA-dependent forensic technique that identifies suspects through their relatives. It was used to catch Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr (above)

CATCHING THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER 

A former police officer is currently awaiting trial accused of being the notorious Golden State Killer who went on a rampage raping and murdering victims across California in the 1970s and 1980s.

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, was arrested by a team of federal and local law agents in front of his house in April 2018 after the crimes went unsolved for decades.

Detectives finally traced the spate of rapes and murders to DeAngelo using genealogy testing.

Paul Holes, an investigator who worked on the case for years, has spoken out about how the new DNA-dependent forensic testing, has told how he took DNA from the crime scenes and entered profile into genealogy database GEDmatch, where members of the public upload genealogical data when trying to trace their family tree.

More than 100 users matched the culprit as a distant relative and detectives contacted some of the people to narrow down who the Golden State Killer could have been.

DeAngelo’s name cropped up in the pool of suspects last week and he was found to also be a match to existing evidence from the investigation, authorities said.

DeAngelo’s name had not previously been on the radar of law enforcement for the crimes.

‘This investigation lasted over 40 years, but with this course of DNA testing and matching, it took us only four months to get to the right pool of people,’ Holes told CNN at the time. ‘This guided us to the right pool of people without having to ruffle the sensibilities of a whole lot of people.’

The evidence has now linked him to 13 murders and more than 50 rapes across the state.

DeAngelo would allegedly sneak into suburban homes at night.

If a couple was home, he would tie up the man, place dishes on his back and threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.

He would then ransack the house, taking souvenirs, notably coins and jewellery before fleeing on foot or bicycle, authorities said.

DeAngelo, who served in the Navy, was a police officer in Exeter, in the San Joaquin Valley, from 1973 to 1976, at a time a burglar known as the Visalia Ransacker was active.

DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn department in 1979 after being arrested for stealing a can of dog repellent and a hammer from a drug store, according to Auburn Journal articles from the time. He was convicted of the theft and fined 100 US dollars.

Ten killings occurred after he was fired and all took place in Southern California.

California prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty against him if he is found guilty.

When cold case detectives reopened the case in 1999 and questioned Dahl, she testified against her ex-boyfriend in a deal that saw her being given the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Dahl told a jury that Davis had wanted Autumn to come to the party with them but Hylton refused to let her go.

She said that she and Hylton had gotten into a struggle where she had ‘accidentally’ bitten the victim.

She claimed she then went outside the home while Davis continued the attack that ended in Hylton’s brutal death. 

Dahl also alleged that the victim’s daughter Autumn helped move her mother’s body.  

Dahl was sentenced to just one year in county jail for her alleged involvement and died in 2014. 

Davis has always denied any involvement in the crime, maintaining that he and Dahl were at the party when the murder took place.   

The Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) began investigating the case in 2006.

Recent testing revealed that DNA found under the victim’s fingernails and on her nightgown in the area of Dahl’s alleged bite mark belongs to an unknown male and none of the three alleged accomplices.

This also refuted Dahl’s confession that she had bitten the victim.

The DNA also did not a match with Archie Hylton, the victim’s husband.

A judge reversed Davis’ murder conviction on April 15 2019 after lawyers for NCIP argued that ‘had the original jury heard the DNA results, it would have likely reached a different outcome.’ 

The El Dorado County District Attorney announced the latest developments in the case Thursday morning. 

Authorities said in a press conference that exonerating the innocent man and finding the real murderer had only been possible by using genetic genealogy.

‘This is the first case in California where genetic genealogy has not only led to the freeing of an individual from prison for a crime he did not commit but the identification of the true source and the arrest of the individual who did it,’ officials said.

Genetic genealogy has been used by authorities to solve a number of high-profile cold cases over the last couple of years. 

It’s the same technique authorities used to catch Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr.

DeAngelo, 74, was finally arrested in April 2018 for at least 50 rapes and 12 murders across California dating back as far as 1975. 

Police tracked him down using the technique, which involves cross-referencing the DNA profile of an unidentified suspect with public databases containing DNA from users who’ve submitted samples to consumer companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com to explore their ancestry.

Authorities are now also using the technique to try to track down the infamous Zodiac Killer who murdered at least seven people across Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. 

The killer, who got the name ‘Zodiac’ after they sent letters and cards including ciphers taunting the local press, actually claimed to have killed 37 victims.  

Authorities are now using genealogy sites to track down the infamous Zodiac Killer. A composite San Francisco police circulated in 1969 of the Bay Area killer (above)

Authorities are now using genealogy sites to track down the infamous Zodiac Killer. A composite San Francisco police circulated in 1969 of the Bay Area killer (above)

Betty Lou Jensen, David Faraday and Darlene Ferrin (left to right) are alleged to be victims of the Zodiac Killer

Betty Lou Jensen, David Faraday and Darlene Ferrin (left to right) are alleged to be victims of the Zodiac Killer

WHAT DO THE ONLINE GENEALOGY SITES HAVE TO SAY ABOUT GOLDEN STATE KILLER’S ARREST?

23andMe

’23andMe chooses to use all practical legal and administrative resources to resist requests from law enforcement, and we do not share customer data with any public databases, or with entities that may increase the risk of law enforcement access. 

‘In certain circumstances, however, 23andMe may be required by law to comply with a valid court order, subpoena, or search warrant for genetic or personal information.’

Ancestry.com

‘Ancestry advocates for its members’ privacy and will not share any information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant. 

‘Additionally, we publish law enforcement requests in our transparency report annually. It’s important to note that in all of 2015, 2016, and 2017 we received no valid legal requests for genetic information.’

Helix 

‘Helix has not been contacted by law enforcement and has not received requests for information relating to the suspected ‘Golden State Killer’ or any other investigation.

‘In the event that we do receive a request, Helix limits what information and under what conditions its customers’ personal information is provided to law enforcement. Specifically, Helix operates consistently with its Privacy Policy which provides that Helix may disclose customer’s personal information, including Genetic Information: ‘to comply with law, a valid court order, a judicial proceeding, subpoenas, warrants, bankruptcy proceedings, or in connection with any legal process, provided that we will not disclose your Genetic Information without a valid subpoena or search warrant specific to your Genetic Information. If we are required to disclose your information, we will do our best to provide you with notice in advance, unless we are prohibited by law from doing so.”

FamilyTreeDNA 

FamilyTreeDNA, the pioneer company in the field of genetic genealogy, was not contacted formally, by any law enforcement agency, regarding the Golden State Killer case.

While we take our customers’ privacy and confidentiality extremely seriously, we support ethically and legally justified uses of groundbreaking advancements of scientific research in genetics and genealogy.

The irony is the fact that this arrest was made on National DNA day, which should not be lost on any of us.

Living DNA 

‘Living DNA is under strict English and EU laws when it comes to data security. We would resist any request to access customer data without the consent of the customer, and would only release data where legally compelled to do so, e.g by where ordered by a court having jurisdiction over us.

We have not been asked to provide, nor have we provided any customer details/data to any authority worldwide including the US authorities.’

MyHeritage

According to Motherboard reporter Sarah Emerson: ‘MyHeritage, a similar genealogy site that lets you upload raw DNA data, just confirmed that it was not involved with the case, and says it was not used by [law enforcement] as a tool to compare genetic profiles.’

 

GOLDEN STATE KILLER’S THIRTEEN VICTIMS

Claude Snelling: September 11, 1975

Claude Snelling: September 11, 1975

Claude Snelling

September 11, 1975

Journalism professor Claude Snelling, 45, was asleep in his home in Visalia, California when he heard an odd noise outside at about 2am. 

He rushed outside to find a masked man dragging his 16-year-old daughter Elizabeth away.

The abductor shot Snelling twice, killing him, and fled the scene on foot, leaving Elizabeth unharmed. 

The shooting was connected to the work of the Visalia Ransacker, believed to be responsible for 102 burglaries in the area, when ballistics matched the gun that killed Snelling to one that had been stolen in a previous break-in. 

Brian and Katie Maggiore: February 2, 1978

Brian and Katie Maggiore

February 2, 1978

Brian Maggiore, 21, and his wife Katie, 20, were walking their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood, just outside Sacramento, on February 2, 1978. 

The FBI said the couple were chased down before being shot and killed by the Golden State Killer.

Dr Robert Offerman

Alexandria Manning

Dr Robert Offerman and Alexandria Manning: December 30, 1979

Dr Robert Offerman and Alexandria Manning

December 30, 1979

Dr Robert Offerman, 44, and Alexandria Manning, 35, were killed at a home in Goleta near Santa Barbara. 

Offerman, an osteopathic surgeon, and Manning, a clinical psychologist, had their hands bound with twine. 

DeAngelo is also charged with murdering Lyman and Charlene Smith at their Ventura County home on March 13, 1980

Patrice and Keith Harrington were killed in their home at Dana Point on August 19, 1980

Lyman and Charlene Smith (left) and Patrice and Keith Harrington (right)  

Lyman and Charlene Smith

March 13, 1980

Lyman Smith, 43, and his wife Charlene, 33, were bludgeoned to death with a fireplace log in their Ventura County home. 

Smith was an attorney who was just days from being appointed a judge. His wife worked as a court clerk. 

Patrice and Keith Harrington

August 19, 1980

Patrice Harrington, 28, and her husband Keith, 25, were killed in their home at Dana Point. Police said they were beaten with a blunt instrument.   

Patrice was a pediatric nurse and her husband was a medical student at UC Irvine.  

Manuela Witthuhn

Janelle Lisa Cruz

Manuela Witthuhn (left) and Janelle Lisa Cruz (right)

Manuela Witthuhn

February 5, 1981

Manuela Witthuhn, 28, was raped and beaten to death in her home in Irvine. 

She was home alone at the time because her husband was in the hospital recovering from an illness. 

Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez 

Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez 

Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez

July 27, 1981

Cheri Domingo, 35, and Gregory Sanchez, 27, were house sitting in Goleta when they were murdered in bed. 

Domingo was found with her hands tied and suffering massive head injuries. Sanchez was shot and bludgeoned.

Janelle Lisa Cruz

May 4, 1986

Janelle Cruz, 18, was bludgeoned to death in her family’s home in Irvine. She was home alone at the time and police found her lying across her bed. 

A real estate agent who was selling the family’s home was the first to discover the teen’s body. Blood was found spattered throughout the home and police believe she was beaten with a pipe wrench.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


Comments are closed.