Genealogy may exonerate California man convicted of 1985 murder

DNA evidence could exonerate California man

Last Updated Feb 13, 2020 8:04 AM EST

A California man who was convicted of a murder nearly 15 years ago is expected to be exonerated Thursday. Genealogy may have led police to the real killer of a 54-year-old newspaper columnist in 1985, a law enforcement source familiar with the case told CBS News.

Ricky Davis was sentenced to 16 years to life for second degree murder in the fatal stabbing of Jane Hylton, who he lived with in El Dorado Hills, outside of Sacramento. Davis' then-girlfriend Connie Dahl and Hylton's 13-year-old daughter also lived in the home.

At the time, they said they found Hylton dead and called 911. A lack of evidence turned the case cold and the identity of the killer went unsolved for 14 years until November 1999, when investigators charged Davis with murder. He was convicted in 2005. 

Investigators said DNA evidence at the time connected Davis to the murder, along with a confession from Dahl. The day after the murder, Dahl gave a newspaper reporter a tour of the crime scene. 

"She showed me a bloody hand print on the wall and then she showed me where she believes the body must have been laid as if asleep is the way she describe it," the reporter said.

But in April of last year, with the help of the Northern California Innocence Project, newly tested evidence revealed an unknown male DNA profile on Hylton's nightgown and under her fingernails. A judge reversed Davis' murder conviction and he remained in custody awaiting a retrial.

Now, genealogical testing may have identified the real killer, exonerating Davis, the law enforcement source said.

Similar testing using public genealogical websites has been used to solve the most notorious murderers in California including catching the Golden State killer, Joseph James Deangelo, who was accused of at least 50 rapes and 12 murders in the state between the 1970s and 80s.

It is also being used to hunt the infamous Zodiac Killer who boasted about killing as many as 37 people and taunted police by sending them cryptic letters 50 years ago in Northern California.

"Anytime we can't identify the criminal, if we could identify some of the criminal's relatives that might give us a very good leg up on solving some of these crimes," DNA expert Monte Miller said.

Davis is due in court Thursday morning, and his jail record on the county website now lists him as awaiting a removal order. His lawyer said they are hoping his release is imminent.