Ricky Davis spent 14 years in prison for murder. This week, at-home DNA tests helped set him free.

In 2005, Ricky Davis was convicted of second-degree murder for stabbing to death his roommate, 54-year-old magazine columnist Jane Hylton.

Davis was sentenced to 16 years in jail. But two years before his jail time was completed, new DNA technology determined the Californian man was innocent. He had been wrongly convicted and served time for a crime he did not commit.

On Thursday, after 14 years in prison, Davis was exonerated by and walked free into the arms of his friends and family.

It was all thanks to genetic genealogy – the union of DNA analysis and family-tree research.

Here is what happened in the original case, and how genetic genealogy has been used to set an innocent man free.

The murder of Jane Hylton.

On July 7, 1985, Jane Hylton’s body was found battered and breathless in her Californian home, where she lived with her 13-year-old daughter as well as Ricky Davis and Davis’ then-girlfriend, Connie Dahl.

In the early hours of the morning, police arrived to the crime scene where Davis, Dahl and Hylton’s daughter were all present, according to the Innocence Project.

The couple had been to a party that night, returning home around 3:30am, where they found the teenage daughter outside the home. She said she had been with some boys and was worried her mother would be upset because of how late it was.

As the three went inside, they instantly saw blood throughout the hallway, before finding Jane Hylton’s body on the bed in the master bedroom. She was dead. Davis and Dahl immediately called 911.

After a lengthy investigation, there were no efficient leads and the case went cold. Then in 1999, police reopened the case and interviewed Connie Dahl again.

She changed her account of what happened that night and implicated Ricky Davis as the murderer. Davis was subsequently convicted of murder.

But Davis always maintained his innocence. In 2006, he contacted the Northern California Innocence Project to see if they could help prove he had been wrongly convicted.

They were successful in completing post-conviction DNA testing on a number of pieces of evidence from the crime scene, which found the DNA profile of an unknown man. Davis’s DNA was not in any of the tests.

Davis was ultimately freed.


According to CNN, a new suspect has been arrested, but cannot be named because he was a juvenile at the time of the crime.

El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said: “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.”

Listen to Mamamia’s True Crime Conversations, which features interviews with experts on the world’s most fascinating, terrifying and mysterious crimes. Post continues below.

Genetic genealogy.

This is the first in California and the second in the United States where a convicted person has been exonerated thanks to genetic genealogy.

The new method involves taking the DNA evidence from a crime scene and sending it to genetics companies who can search for potential matches with family members who have submitted samples when researching their family tree. This means investigators no longer have to rely solely on criminal DNA databases.

“Investigative 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 as we now know the arrest of the person that did have that DNA,” Sacramento County district attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.

“It freed Ricky Davis, it identified the other person.”

The technology is extremely new, and investigative authorities have said that it is only within the past couple of years that this would have been possible.

“I wish it had occurred sooner and we could have gotten him out of custody sooner and identified, but the practical reality is it’s only been in the last, really, year and a half — two years — that the genetic genealogy to identify somebody under these circumstances has been in existence,” Attorney Pierson said.

It is the same DNA technology that led to the arrest of the Golden State Killer, who was responsible for 13 murders. The breakthrough in this case is seen as the catalyst for the use of genetic genealogy.

Feature Image: AAP.

Sign up for the “Mamamia Daily” newsletter. Get across the stories women are talking about today.

00:00 / ???