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California Man Charged for Murder in 1985 is Exonerated thanks to Genetic Genealogy

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Californian Ricky Davis was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1985 fatal stabbing of 54-year old Jane Hylton. After spending 14 years in prison for the murder, Davis can now walk free after being exonerated thanks to cutting-edge DNA technology. Davis becomes the first person in California history to be exonerated with the help of genetic genealogy – the use of genetic DNA analysis and family tree history. 

In 1985, Jane Hylton was found dead inside an El Dorado Hills, California home that was shared with Davis. After returning from a party with his girlfriend, Davis found Hylton dead in one of the bedrooms, according to the Northern California Innocence Project, which represented Davis. 

The initial investigation was unsuccessful, and the case went cold until 1999 when it was reopened. When police interrogated Davis’ girlfriend several times, she changed her story and ultimately implicated Davis and herself in the murder. 

Davis was convicted in 2005, and sentenced to 16 years to life in state prison. His girlfriend received a year in county jail. After his conviction, the Northern California Innocence Project took on the case, convincing the El Dorado district attorney to conduct post-conviction DNA testing. 

Forensic experts began the process of examining the evidence of the case and uncovered DNA that did not belong to Davis. The case was reopened last year and a judge moved to reverse his conviction and ordered a new trial. 

A new suspect in Hylton’s murder was identified and has been arrested in Roseville, California, according to El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson. Pierson said the suspect in question was not identified because he was a juvenile at the time of the murder. “Ricky Davis was falsely accused, brought to trial, convicted and spent the last 15-some years in custody for a crime I can tell you in all confidence, he did not commit.”

Genetic genealogy has proven to be a highly effective tool for solving decades cases, as we’ve seen with Davis. The technique gained its ground after it was used to identify the Golden State Killer, who terrorized Northern California in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Genetic genealogists use the technique along with obituaries, birth certificates, public documents, and an online database of DNA to solve cold cases and exonerate wrongly prosecuted individuals. 

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