Cooley's Innocence Project Gains Freedom For Wrongfully Imprisoned Man

June 20, 2014 - After serving almost seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit, post-conviction DNA testing has revealed that Donya Davis is innocent. New DNA testing of biological evidence collected in the 2006 rape case points to another man and excludes Donya Davis. Davis was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the stranger rape of a Detroit woman. Prior to Davis's 2007 trial, the Detroit Forensic Services (Detroit Crime Lab) tested skin cells collected from the victim’s thighs. Testing of those skin cells also excluded Davis.

(left to right) Marla Mitchell-Cichon, co-director, Cooley Law School Innocence Project; Denise Larry, Davis's mother; Alyse Tarbutton, attorney who worked on the case as a Cooley student; and Melissa Wiggins, current Cooley student who is working on the case.
(left to right) Marla Mitchell-Cichon, co-director, Cooley Law
School Innocence Project; Denise Larry, Davis's mother;
Alyse Tarbutton, attorney who worked on the case as a
Cooley student; and Melissa Wiggins, current Cooley student
who is working on the case.

"After six years of hard work by a number of Cooley students, the first step toward obtaining justice for Donya Davis has been achieved," said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, co-director of Cooley's Innocence Project. "Michigan’s post-conviction DNA testing law, MCL 700.16, is set to expire January 1, 2016. Previous versions of the law would have precluded Davis from seeking the testing that now shows he didn't commit the crime. Now he is hoping for justice for himself and the victim."

In 2013, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Innocence Project sought DNA testing under Michigan's post-conviction law, MCL 770.16. After testing was ordered, Bode Technology Group in Lorton, Va., identified sperm cells on thigh samples that were never evaluated or tested by the Detroit Crime Lab. Bode’s testing of that evidence excluded Davis as the source of male DNA. In light of the new evidence, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office is not opposing the Cooley Innocence Project's motion for a new trial. Davis is expected to be released from the Wayne County Jail today. The prosecutor’s office has not moved to dismiss the charges.

Davis has maintained his innocence since his arrest in 2006. At a bench trial before the Hon. Leonard Townsend, Davis presented an alibi defense. The only direct evidence against Davis was the victim’s identification. Misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, and eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing.

For the last seven years, Davis has made the best of his time in prison. He has maintained relationships with his family through phone calls, visits and letters. The family never gave up on Davis. While in prison, Davis earned his GED, completed a small business education program, and completed a commercial driver’s license course. Davis became a serious student of the law and has earned credits toward a paralegal degree. He is currently working towards his culinary arts degree. In addition to his formal studies, Davis has spent his free time learning as much as he can about biology, DNA testing and its role in criminal convictions.

The purpose of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School Innocence Project is to identify, provide legal assistance to, and secure the release of those persons who are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The Project has screened over 5,000 cases since 2001 and has been responsible for the exoneration and release of two other individuals in Michigan, Ken Wyniemko, in 2003, and Nathaniel Hatchett, in 2008. The Project is staffed by student interns who do the bulk of the legal work and several students participated in the development of Davis’s case.

For more information, contact: Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon, co-director, Thomas M. Cooley Law School Innocence Project; (517) 290-2951.


About Cooley Law School: Celebrating 40 years of excellence, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School is a private, nonprofit, independent law school accredited by the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission. Cooley has provided its more than 18,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world. Cooley offers its Juris Doctor program, Joint Degree programs, and Master of Laws programs three times a year with enrollment in January, May and September. Cooley Law School has campuses across Michigan in Lansing, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, and in Tampa Bay, Florida.

 

Highlights

Post-Conviction DNA Testing Reveals Donya Davis was wrongfully imprisoned.

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School Innocence Project Marks its Third Major Victory.

Cooley's Innocence Project purpose is to identify, provide legal assistance to, and secure the release of those persons who are imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.


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