For Immediate Release

Contact:
Shari Ireton
University of Washington School of Law
206.685.9002

2010-07-12

Law School Clients Fully Exonerated 17 Years after Wrongful Conviction

John Pantazis, Larry Davis, Alan Northrop, and Jackie McMurtrie (l to r) IPNW Staff Attorney John Pantazis, Larry Davis, Alan Northrop, and IPNW Director Jackie McMurtrie. On Wednesday, July 14, Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard is expected to dismiss the charges of rape and burglary against Davis and Northrop.

Clients with the UW School of Law Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW), Larry Davis and Alan Northrop, will be fully exonerated on July 14, when Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard is expected to dismiss the charges of rape and burglary against them. The dismissal came at the request of the Office of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney.

Davis and Northrop were released from custody and had their convictions vacated on April 22, 2010 after DNA testing supported their innocence by providing evidence that two other men committed the crime. Additional DNA testing conducted at the request of Clark County Prosecuting Attorney's Office indicated that the DNA found on the victim came from the perpetrators, not Davis or Northrop. After the most recent testing was completed, on July 14 the State will request that the charges against Davis and Northrop should be dismissed, pursuant to a signed agreement between the Prosecutor's Office and the IPNW Clinic.

"It feels good to be free finally," Davis said. "I'm just overwhelmed with joy."

"Larry Davis and Alan Northrop can now begin to rebuild their lives and put this awful tragedy behind them," said Innocence Project Northwest Staff Attorney John Pantazis, who is handling the case. "Their families and the community at large have been tremendously supportive. It is our hope that the ordeal of Mr. Davis and Mr. Northrop will not go unnoticed."

Federal law and the laws in 27 states currently require compensation for those who have been wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit. Washington State currently does not have a compensatory statute for those whose convictions have been overturned, like Northrop and Davis.

The convictions of the two men began with a home invasion that occurred near La Center on the morning of January 11, 1993. Two men broke into the house and attacked the woman cleaning the home, tying her to a table and threatening her with a knife. One man held the victim while the other man penetrated her with a foreign object before raping her. The men left immediately following the sexual assault and nothing was stolen from the home. Davis and Northrop, who were arrested, charged and convicted in 1993, were sentenced to 20 1/2 and 23 1/2 years in prison, respectively.

Davis and Northrop originally contacted the IPNW Clinic by letter in 2000. The Clark County Prosecutor's Office opposed DNA testing for years under a prior version of the Washington DNA Testing Statute that left it up to prosecutors whether to test evidence for DNA in closed cases. In 2006, DNA testing was granted by the original trial court judge, Judge Robert Harris, under the current DNA Testing Statute, which gives the judge decision-making power. After the court ordered testing, the shirt and pants worn by the victim during the assault were destroyed by the Clark County Sheriff's Office, before DNA testing could be conducted on the evidence.

"This is a complex case, but the bottom line is clear: Larry Davis and Alan Northrop are completely innocent," said Pantazis. "Several rounds of DNA testing have been completed on 27 pieces of crime scene evidence over the past four years. Not a shred of evidence ties Mr. Davis or Mr. Northrop to this crime, and the same man's DNA was found underneath the victim's fingernails and in her pubic hair. Additional DNA testing completed at the request of the Prosecutor's Office has shown that this matching male DNA originated from the actual rapist instead of from friends or family members, and it is certain that this person was not Mr. Davis or Mr. Northrop. In addition, two separate foreign DNA profiles were found under the victim's fingernails, which originated from the actual attackers."

Davis and Northrop were convicted based solely on the victim's eyewitness identification, which was inconsistent, uncertain, and riddled with procedural errors. The victim, who got a fleeting look at the actual perpetrators before being blindfolded, was unable to pick out Northrop's photograph a few days after the crime and was unsure about her identification of Davis. The victim had seen photographs of both Davis and Northrop before viewing live lineups that contained no other familiar faces. A friend from the jail provided the victim with details about the suspects who had been questioned before the lineups occurred.

The victim had consensual sex with her boyfriend, who she was living with, the night before the crime occurred. Although the boyfriend's DNA was found on the victim's body during the sexual assault examination, he has been ruled out as the contributor of the matching DNA Profile obtained from the victim's fingernails and pubic hair. Additional investigation and testing were performed at the request of the Prosecutor's Office to rule out other non-perpetrator sources of the matching DNA Profile. All of the testing indicated that the matching DNA Profile originated from the actual rapist instead of from the victim's boyfriend, family members, or from random contamination.

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in over 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing. At last count, there have been 255 DNA exonerations in the United States. "Every time an eyewitness misidentification implicates an innocent person, the actual perpetrator goes free," said IPNW Clinic Director and UW law professor Jacqueline McMurtrie. "Our system of justice will be more reliable once we make sure that procedures that have been proven to decrease the number of misidentifications are adopted statewide. And it will be more decent once we make sure that people who are wrongfully convicted have access to compensation under state law. As it stands, neither Alan nor Larry will be compensated for spending 17 years in prison for a crime they did not commit."