(l to r) IPNW Staff Attorney John Pantazis, Larry Davis, Alan Northrop, and IPNW Director Jackie McMurtrie on the day both Davis and Northrop's sentences were vacated by a Clark County Judge.
Yesterday, Clark County Superior Court Judge Diane Woolard vacated the sentences of Alan G. Northrop and Larry W. Davis, both convicted of rape and burglary in 1993, as a result of DNA testing not available at the time of their original trial.
Students, faculty, staff, and volunteer attorneys with the UW School of Law Innocence Project Northwest (IPNW) worked on the case and were present when Judge Woolard announced her decision, at which time Northrop was released from state custody. Davis was released on parole earlier this year.
"This is a complex case, but the bottom line is clear: Larry Davis and Alan Northrop are innocent, and their long ordeal is finally coming to an end," said John Pantazis, a staff attorney for IPNW (on furlough from Ropes & Gray LLP) who handled the case. "Not a shred of physical evidence tied Mr. Davis or Mr. Northrop to this crime."
On the morning of January 11, 1993, two men broke into a house in La Center, Wash., and attacked the woman cleaning the home, tying her to a table and threatening her with a knife. The men left immediately after sexually assaulting 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 were convicted based solely on the victim's eyewitness identification. The victim, who got a fleeting look at the 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 men 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.
In 1993, samples were taken, but were not tested for DNA because of the lack of technology to test small amounts, Pantazis said.
In January 2006, Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Harris agreed to a request by IPNW to test the samples using new DNA technology. None of the DNA testing showed a match with either Northrop or Davis. When questioned by investigators in 1993, Northrop and Davis denied ever being inside the home where the attack occurred.
This is the second time in Washington state history that someone convicted of a crime has been exonerated based on DNA testing. The first DNA exoneration came in 2006, when a Yakima County judge vacated the rape conviction of IPNW client Ted Bradford. Bradford was entitled to a new trial, which ended February 11, 2010 when the jury pronounced Bradford not guilty.
Many UW students and alumni were involved in the Northrop and Davis cases over the years:
- Anne Beardsley Mizuta '01 reviewed the initial letters from Northrop and Davis in 2001.
- Alena Ciecko '04 and Judy King '03 took the lead on the initial investigation in 2002-03.
- Anna Buzard '05 and Jacob D'Annunzio '04 took over the cases the following year and wrote to the Clark County Prosecutor's Office to request post-conviction DNA testing.
- IPNW students were involved in the effort to change the post-conviction DNA law and the legislature passed an amended version in 2004, giving courts decision-making authority. The student effort to change the law was spearheaded by Theresa Connor '06, who also worked on the cases during her time in the IPNW clinic.
- Erin Curtis '06, wrote the motion for post-conviction DNA testing that persuaded Judge Robert Harris to order testing in 2005.
- Julie Fields '06 , Cassie Little '06, Sheila LaRose '08 and Boris Reznikov '07 continued to investigate non-DNA leads.