One woman was forced to talk, the other was not allowed. Both were powerless.
Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin tell you about a California man named Ricky Davis. In 1985, Ricky and his girlfriend, Connie, found their roommate brutally stabbed to death. Without any leads, the case went cold for 14 years until detectives convinced Connie that she had repressed memories of Ricky committing the crime.
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Laura Nirider Welcome to Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions. I'm Laura Nirider.
Steve Drizin And I'm Steve Drizin.
Laura Nirider Today, we're going to tell you about a California man named Ricky Davis. In 1985, Ricky and his girlfriend Connie found their roommate brutally stabbed to death. Without any leads, the case went cold for 14 years. That's when detectives convinced Connie that she had repressed memories of Ricky committing the crime. Based on Connie's false statement, Ricky spent 12 years in prison; until very recently, when he and his mother, Maureen, finally had something to be thankful for.
Steve Drizin I think it's important to realize that, on the road to a wrongful conviction, there's a lot of road kill. There's the defendant, who gets wrongfully convicted. There's the defendant's family, who has to live with the fact that their loved one is going away for a long period of time or sentenced to death.
Laura Nirider Yeah, in this case, it was Ricky's mom, Maureen, who had to bear the brunt of that pain.
Steve Drizin And then there are witnesses, sometimes, who are pressured to lie to save their own skin-
Laura Nirider Witnesses like Connie Dahl.
Steve Drizin ...and they have to live with the guilt that accompanies that lie.
Laura Nirider Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, when you think about Connie and Maureen in that courtroom, one woman is being forced to talk and one woman is being prevented from talking. And of course, the two of them have two very different stories to tell about who Ricky Davis is and what Ricky Davis did.
Steve Drizin And so the notion of powerlessness that Maureen experienced in this case is something that we see all the time. I mean, while the trial is happening, there's nothing Maureen can do to stop the train from running over her son.
Laura Nirider And Connie's being forced to drive that train. She's a victim here, too. Today's story starts in El Dorado Hills, California, an upper-class suburb about 20 miles east of Sacramento. In so many ways, El Dorado Hills epitomizes the American dream. It's filled with expensive homes that back up onto lush golf courses. Its shopping centers are filled with luxury stores and fancy restaurants. Its families, by and large, live lives of privilege and peace. Ricky Davis's story is still unfolding today, but it began back in 1985. Ricky was 20 years old. He lived in El Dorado Hills in a large home on Stanford Lane, along with his mom, Maureen. Now, Ricky and Maureen were pretty different from their wealthy neighbors. Maureen had been a teenage mom. By the time she turned 20, she was raising Ricky and his three sisters in Southern California. Without much support from their dad, Maureen worked to pay the bills by waitressing. She and Ricky had come to El Dorado Hills just a few years before our story begins. Ricky's grandmother, a successful businesswoman, had recently moved to the area, and she bought the house on Stanford Lane for them. This family might not have been classic El Dorado Hills, but they were close-knit and loving. No secrets, no drama, no lies. Ricky had a 19-year-old girlfriend, Connie Dahl, who spent plenty of nights at the Stanford Lane house. Now, Ricky's mom, Maureen, wasn't thrilled with Ricky and Connie's relationship, because Connie had a pretty serious meth habit. Ricky smoked pot, it's true, but he wasn't into harder stuff. And Maureen worried that Connie would drag Ricky into trouble. But unlike Ricky, Connie didn't have a stable home. Sometimes she had no home at all and slept in her car. Once she and Ricky started dating, Connie often spent the night at Ricky's house climbing in his bedroom window after Maureen was asleep. One Friday in 1985, July 5th, the Stanford Lane house gained two more residents. Ricky's grandmother was in the real estate business, and she'd recently learned that one of her employees needed a temporary place to stay. Fifty-four-year-old Jane Hylton had been fighting with her husband over money, and those fights had apparently turned violent. When Ricky's grandmother found out about this, she offered Jane and her 13-year-old daughter, Autumn, a spare bedroom on Stanford Lane as a safe harbor. They moved in on Friday, July 5th, but that harbor wasn't quite as safe as it seemed. The next day, Saturday, July 6th, the house emptied out, at least for the most part. Ricky's mom, Maureen, took off in the middle of the day to go camping with her boyfriend. In the evening, Ricky and his girlfriend Connie headed out to a party. Even 13-year-old Autumn left the house to meet up with some new friends, three teenage boys she'd met earlier that day. For her part, Autumn's mom, Jane, stayed home. Ricky and Connie got back at around 3:30 Sunday morning. When they arrived at the house, they found Autumn outside, standing alone in the front yard. Autumn told them she'd been home for an hour, but she hadn't gone inside yet. She was worried about getting in trouble with her mom for being out too late, she said, and she was hoping Ricky and Connie would go inside with her. The three go in together. Upstairs, there's no sign of Autumn's mom, Jane. So Ricky and Connie leave Autumn in her room and head for bed themselves. But as they walk down the hall, Ricky spots blood on the carpet outside the master bedroom where his mom, Maureen, usually sleeps. She's on a camping trip, he reminds himself. He pushes the door open and finds a nightmare. It's not his mom, but Autumn's mom, Jane Hylton. She's lying on the bed wearing only a nightgown, and she's clearly dead. Jane's been stabbed 39 times and is covered in blood. She's got defensive wounds up and down her arms. One of her fingernails is missing, and her hand is clutching a tuft of someone's hair. There's even a bite mark on the back of her left shoulder. Ricky and Connie were horrified. They called the police, who arrived and interviewed both of them on the spot. Ricky and Connie told the police they'd been at a party all night, and it was pretty easy to corroborate their story. The hood of Ricky's car was still warm, suggesting he and Connie were being honest about only recently getting back to the house. And 13-year-old Autumn told police she'd seen Ricky and Connie arrive home and gone in with them. To these officers at the scene, it seemed pretty clear that Ricky and Connie were innocent; so clear that the police didn't bother to interview the other people who had been with them at the party. Of course, those people would have been alibi witnesses. Instead, police moved on to check out the obvious suspect: Jane's husband, the guy with whom she'd been fighting. But he seemed to have an alibi too. He'd apparently spent the evening at a local restaurant. So next, the police tried to find the three teenage boys Autumn had been hanging out with earlier that night. Problem was, Autumn only knew first names for two of them: Michael and Calvin. After scanning through a few yearbooks from local high schools, the detectives came up with nothing. Unfortunately, that was it for the investigation. Without any suspects or solid leads, the case went cold for 14 years. Fast forward from July 1985 to November 1999. Ricky and Connie had broken up long ago; their relationship ended up lasting less than a year. Since then, Connie had continued using meth, off and on. For his part, Ricky had spent those years in and out of prison, for a series of relatively minor offenses; mostly drug related crimes and robbery. But neither of them had ever been involved in anything close to murder. In 1999, the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office decided to reinvestigate Jane Hylton's killing. Two detectives were assigned to this cold case, and they started by reviewing old news coverage. Their attention was caught by a story that had run in a local newspaper just a few days after the murder. A reporter from the paper had shown up at the Stanford Lane house. Connie had let her in and shown her the room where Jane had been killed. The reporter asked a bunch of questions about finding the body, and that's when Connie had said something that struck these new detectives as suspicious. Connie had told the reporter that Jane's body had been positioned on the bed as though she were sleeping. Whoever had killed Jane, Connie speculated, must have moved her body onto the bed afterwards. Connie's comment was pretty obviously a guess, but the police began wondering if she actually might know something about the body being moved. So over the next 15 months, between November 1999 and February 2001, the police decided to interrogate Connie on three separate occasions. It was all caught on videotape, every last word. And that videotape makes it clear the police weren't aiming only for Connie. They wanted her to confess to being present when Jane died, and they wanted her to name her ex-boyfriend, Ricky Davis, as the killer.
Steve Drizin The theory was that Jane was brutally beaten and stabbed to death by a man, and the man that the police officers had in mind was Ricky Davis. Police officers often go after ex-girlfriends or ex-wives on the assumption that there was a bad breakup, that there's some animus there that may motivate the aggrieved party into revealing information that they had been unwilling to reveal at the time of the investigation. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned is the thinking here.
Laura Nirider Connie is first brought in for questioning only days after the new cops take over the case. At first, she insists repeatedly that she had nothing to do with Jane's murder; that all she remembers is coming home and finding the body. But right away, Connie is hit with a barrage of lies. Police tell her that a witness had placed her and Ricky at the homicide scene, although no one had. Police tell Connie that DNA established her presence in Jane's bedroom, even though it didn't. And they tell Connie that the hairs found clenched in Jane's hand belonged to Ricky: another lie. Police had actually lost those hairs. They were never tested at all.
Detective We know that you were present in the house when this happened.
Connie Dahl Oh, no, I was not.
Detective We already know that.
Connie Dahl What do you mean?
Detective Well, like I said, you know, we've got all kinds of physical evidence.
Connie Dahl I was there when it happened?
Connie Dahl Oh, my G... There's no way.
Laura Nirider Over time, though, the police's cascading lies begin to break Connie down. Like most of us, Connie has no idea the police are allowed to lie during interrogations. So after hearing all this apparent evidence of her own involvement, Connie starts questioning her memory of what happened all those years ago.
Connie Dahl OK, if I was there, I have no memory of that.
Laura Nirider She's desperately trying to make sense of what they're saying and eventually tells the investigators that maybe she was there and just couldn't remember it. The investigators suggest that Ricky had "programmed" her memory so that Connie would blank out her recollections of the crime. She agrees: Maybe I have amnesia.
Connie Dahl I couldn't have watched that happen. That would have been... Ugh! if I witnessed,,, that happening-
Detective I thought that at the very least, you witnessed-
Speaker I blanked it out.
Steve Drizin They are absolutely confusing the hell out of her. They are causing a crisis of confidence where she begins not only to doubt her memory, but she can't really distinguish between what she actually remembers and what she thinks she might remember.
Laura Nirider Investigators warn Connie that if she doesn't somehow recover her memories, they might have to interrogate her again. And they say that could lead to her arrest. On the other hand, they imply that Connie will receive leniency, even immunity from prosecution, if she provides them with a statement right now.
Detective The first one to jump on the bandwagon always gets the easiest ride.
Connie Dahl Right, right.
Detective You know what I mean?
Connie Dahl Right.
Steve Drizin And so what happens here is that the police provide incentives to adopt their preconceived theory: promises of leniency or threats of harm; suggestions that the first person to jump on the bandwagon is going to get the best deal; and that if she doesn't jump on first, someone else is going to take her spot and she's going to get punished more severely.
Laura Nirider These tactics work. Connie breaks and agrees to confess; to say that she helped Ricky kill Jane. But she has no idea what to say about the crime. Remember, Connie wasn't actually there. To help her out, investigators feed Connie everything they know about Jane Hylton's murder and everything they think happened, too. Here's the story that Connie ultimately agreed to repeat. She said she was there while Ricky and Jane were arguing about whether Jane's daughter, Autumn, could go out that night. During the argument, Connie said, Ricky punched Jane in the face. The altercation escalated. Eventually, Connie went downstairs and acted as a lookout while Ricky stabbed Jane. Then, Connie said, she came back to the room and helped Ricky move Jane's body onto the bed.
Steve Drizin So, to me, what makes this case different is that we have a sort of recipe, if you will, for a persuaded false confession. What's unique about a persuaded false confession is that the suspect comes to doubt their own memory. They get to a place where they think: The police officers are telling me, I committed this crime. They're telling me they have evidence that proves that I committed this crime. But why can't I remember it? And when a suspect gets to that place of uncertainty, the police officers provide an answer: The events that you saw were so traumatic that they caused you to repress these memories. And so the interrogation becomes an exercise in pulling these memories out of the suspect's mind. But they're not real memories. They don't exist.
Laura Nirider At times. Connie's language reveals her own uncertainty, even while she's confessing.
Steve Drizin I think I did that. I probably did that. I seem to remember that. There's a tentativeness that you wouldn't have if they were real memories. And we see that throughout Connie's interrogation.
Laura Nirider Tellingly, when Connie's not fed information, she can't get anything about the story right. She's not able to tell the police what the murder weapon looked like, where Ricky got it, or how he disposed of it.
Steve Drizin The detectives are shaping her memories; they are feeding her facts. And that final story here is really their story. It's their preconceived theory of the crime, come to life through the words of Connie Dahl.
Laura Nirider Strangely enough, the police don't arrest anyone right away. Instead, they leave Connie alone for a while and interview Ricky himself. He vehemently denies any involvement whatsoever. So the police come back to Connie, in January 2000, to see if she can give them any more information. And they remind her that the more details she can provide, the better off she'll be. During this interrogation, officers play Connie the crime scene video that was recorded the night Jane died to see if they can, "refresh her memory." Now, I've seen this video myself, and it's horrifying. It's almost totally silent as the videographer walks from room to room, ending up in the bedroom where Jane died. The camera documents every wound, every injury, from her missing fingernail to her eyes, which were still open. It's the kind of crime scene that makes even people who see this all the time sick to their stomachs. Connie watches the video and agrees to add more detail to her story. She says she heard Jane plead for her life, but Ricky didn't listen. She says she heard Jane make gurgling noises as Ricky stabbed her. And after the attack, Connie says, she saw Ricky covered in blood. The police still don't arrest Connie, but they also don't leave her alone. Instead, they come back a third time, in 2001, to try to get even more details. This time, detectives tell her that she'll either be charged with a "misdemeanor accessory type thing" or she'll go down as a "full blooded half partner" in the murder. It all depends on her credibility. Now, Connie's got two young children. The police tell her that if she continues to cooperate, she'll be able to go home to her kids. But they warn her: Saying "I don't know" isn't going to help you at all.
Steve Drizin They bring up the subject of her children repeatedly throughout the interrogation. And the message to Connie is crystal clear: If I don't tell them what they want to hear, I'm going to lose my children. So they play on her emotions as a mother. These kinds of tactics are very common when a woman is a suspect or a witness, because police officers know that most women would walk across a field of glass in order to protect their children.
Laura Nirider To satisfy her interrogators, Connie adds another detail to her story. And it's a big one. She wasn't just a lookout, she says. She was in the room during the murder and tried to intervene. And remember that bite mark on the back of Jane's shoulder? Connie ends up saying she was responsible for it, that she accidentally bit Jane during the struggle. Finally, Connie's story was good enough. On May 21, 2002, based only on Connie's confession, the El Dorado County district attorney's office filed murder charges against Ricky Davis. And here's the thing: When those cops told Connie she wouldn't be charged, turns out they were lying again. Connie was charged with murder too, as an accomplice. A few months later, prosecutors told Connie that if she agreed to testify against Ricky at trial, she could plead guilty to manslaughter and get a huge reduction in her sentence. They'd decide exactly how much of a reduction after she testified. With no good options left, Connie pled guilty and agreed to take the stand.
Maureen Klein I didn't like her to start with.
Laura Nirider That's Maureen Klein, Ricky Davis's mother. Remember, she's always had an opinion about Ricky's ex-girlfriend, Connie.
Maureen Klein Ricky and I have always been very close. He had a horrible father. So I think the closeness was because I was all Ricky really had. Even as a teenager, he would call me his best friend. So this situation was extremely devastating.
Laura Nirider In 2002, Maureen learned that Ricky was being charged with murdering Jane Hylton based on the testimony of a girl he dated 14 years ago. Maureen couldn't believe it. She knew her son was no killer. And the police had seemed to acknowledge his and Connie's innocence years ago. As she processed the news, Maureen struggled to understand why Connie would falsely confess.
Maureen Klein Connie had problems, obviously, and she let the detectives talk her into believing that she had something to do with the murder. I was very angry at Connie, and I just couldn't believe that she was lying; just out and out lying. I don't understand how somebody could convince you that you participated in a murder that you didn't.
Steve Drizin The idea that Connie would confess to a murder she didn't commit; it was impossible for Maureen to believe. I understand and sympathize with Maureen about her anger towards Connie, but Connie is a tragic victim in this, too. She didn't start out by naming Ricky Davis as a murderer. It was only the lies and the manipulation by the detectives in that cold case squad that gave her really no choice but to change her story in ways that pleased them, or else she was going to lose her kids.
Laura Nirider After Ricky was charged, Maureen sat down and watched Connie's interrogation videos. As Maureen watched, she began to see how police manipulated Connie. She started realizing that the problem was much bigger than her son's ex-girlfriend.
Maureen Klein Connie did say in the starting of one of the interviews that she had been up on meth for 24 hours prior. So that in itself... I would think they wouldn't have interviewed her at that time, but they did anyway. She would say exactly what the detectives told her to. You could tell that they would turn off the recording and get her back on track. Detectives did tell Connie that once Ricky was convicted that she would go free, and I guess they threatened her with her children and stuff. I didn't believe anything would come of it because I knew Ricky had no part of it. I knew he was innocent.
Laura Nirider Maureen was right that Ricky was innocent, but she was wrong that nothing would come of Connie's story. In June 2005, Ricky went on trial for Jane Hylton's murder. Prosecutors called Connie Dahl as their star witness. From his seat at the defense table, Ricky watched Connie testify. He hadn't seen her in almost 20 years, and he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Connie knew he was innocent; the two of them had discovered Jane's body together. Somehow, though, the system had put them on opposite sides. For her part, Maureen sat in the front row of the courtroom, right behind Ricky, as prosecutors told the jury an unthinkable story about her son.
Maureen Klein The way they portrayed him, like he was some vicious animal, that was hard to take. I was surprised that the jurors believed Connie. To me, she didn't sound very credible. The way she answered was what she was told to say, but they did believe her, obviously. I couldn't say anything. At times, I wanted to yell out or react, but I knew that if I did, I wouldn't be allowed in the courtroom. So, it was a helpless feeling.
Laura Nirider In exchange for Connie's testimony, prosecutors agreed that her sentence should be reduced to time served. The next day, she walked free. But Ricky? Ricky wasn't as lucky. Based almost entirely on Connie's false testimony. Ricky was convicted of murdering Jane Hylton. He was sentenced to six years to life.
Maureen Klein It was like a bad movie. I mean, I know no system's perfect, but there was just no way I thought he could be convicted under the circumstances. But he was. Everything about my life changed in the moment that he was convicted. It seemed to me my whole personality changed. I became angry at everything. I wish those detectives nothing but horrible things in their life. I mean, I'm sorry, but that's the way I feel.
Laura Nirider After his 2005 conviction, Ricky Davis was sent to a California prison, hours away from El Dorado Hills. His ex-girlfriend Connie was free, but she never shook her meth habit. In 2014, Connie died of an overdose. For her part, Maureen moved out of the Stanford Lane house. She couldn't be there alone and started living with her mom. Every month, Maureen drove to visit Ricky in prison. Year after year after year.
Maureen Klein So there's a lot of bad people, and they deserve to be in there. But there's... seems to be a lot that that shouldn't be in there. With no money, you're going to do time. Period. That was just cut and dry. And it pretty much is what it is. It's the same with different nationalities. They don't get the same justice that a rich white person does, and that's wrong.
Laura Nirider Shortly before Connie's death, the Northern California Innocence Project agreed to take on Ricky Davis's case. And in 2014, attorneys from the project sought DNA testing on a host of items from Jane Hylton's murder scene. The crime lab started with that bite mark on the back of Jane's shoulder, the mark that Connie told police had been left by her teeth. Whoever left that mark bit through Jane's nightgown. Sure enough, the lab found saliva on the nightgown and developed a full DNA profile of an unknown male. Obviously, the biter was not Connie Dahl, and it wasn't Ricky Davis either. Next, the lab tested DNA from skin cells that were left underneath Jane's fingernails, from when she'd scratched her attacker. Whose DNA was it? The same unknown man who'd left his saliva on Jane's nightgown. The profile was run through the local and national DNA databases, with no luck. The attacker couldn't be identified. But it was crystal-clear that whoever had killed Jane Hylton was not Connie or Ricky. Ricky's attorneys filed a post-conviction petition based on this new evidence. In 2019, the court threw out Ricky's conviction. That was great news, but Ricky's fight wasn't over. Even though the DNA excluded Ricky, prosecutors weren't ready to drop charges until they knew whose DNA it was. So they began preparing to retry Ricky for Jane's murder, and Ricky had to stay behind bars. But in the meantime, prosecutors tried a brand new method to identify the DNA: genetic genealogy. And it led investigators back to someone whose name they hadn't heard in 25 years.
Steve Drizin Genetic genealogy searches public databases, like Ancestry.com and 23andMe, to look for matches to evidence that's found at a crime scene. Police officers start examining the family trees and look for people who have a connection to the crime scene.
Laura Nirider In Ricky's case, the process led the DA's office to 51-year-old Michael Green. Who is Michael Green? Turns out he was one of the three teenagers that Jane's daughter, Autumn, had been with the night her mother was killed. At long last, 25 years after Jane's death, the authorities had found her killer. In February 2020, Michael Green was charged with Jane's murder and was booked into the El Dorado County Jail. He entered a plea of not guilty and is awaiting trial today. Now, because Green's case is still unfolding, we don't have clear answers yet about why he attacked Jane or how he did it. We just know the DNA was his. That's pretty close to case closed. On February 13, 2012, a judge declared Ricky Davis factually innocent and dismissed the case against him. After serving 12 years for a murder he did not commit, Ricky walked out of prison right into the arms of his mother.
Maureen Klein The judge exonerated him, which he said that was the first time he had ever done it. That was such a great feeling. And then see him walk out of the jail was the greatest thing. Everybody was there to cheer him coming out, and hugging him and stuff. To see him smiling because he was happy instead of having to go back into the cells as I was leaving him... It's a fantastic feeling.
Laura Nirider Unfortunately, the same couldn't happen for Connie. She remains, in death, a convicted participant in Jane Hylton's murder.
Steve Drizin There were two wrongful convictions here, and this DNA evidence proved that Connie's story was false. It also proved that she didn't bite Jane Hylton. So, she deserves to be exonerated posthumously.
Laura Nirider This year, Ricky Davis will be spending his first Thanksgiving in nearly 12 years with his mom, Maureen.
Maureen Klein Well, I'll make dinner... Thanksgiving turkey; it's the only time of year I can afford it. His sisters and nephew will be here, and that'll be nice. I'm not the best cook, I'll tell you, but it's more having everybody together and happy that's the best part of it. Ricky's a very affectionate person. When he comes in and hugs me, it's the best feeling in the world. I feel lucky and blessed every time I look at him.
Ricky Davis Hello?
Steve Drizin Hey Ricky, how are you?
Ricky Davis I'm doing good. How are you, Steve?
Steve Drizin Good.
Ricky Davis Hi Laura.
Laura Nirider Tell me about those first moments of freedom, what it felt like to walk out those doors.
Ricky Davis Long time coming.
Laura Nirider Yeah, seen the video, a lot of people there.
Ricky Davis Yeah, that was great.
Laura Nirider I saw you eating some pizza.
Ricky Davis Yeah.
Steve Drizin You went right for the comfort food.
Laura Nirider What are your toppings of choice?
Ricky Davis Sausage, pepperoni, linguica.
Steve Drizin All the good stuff.
Laura Nirider Do you see your mom much these days?
Ricky Davis Yes, I do.
Laura Nirider Yeah.
Ricky Davis I love her very much, so I just like seeing her.
Laura Nirider Since we're talking about food and pizza and everything else; is there something your mom makes for you, something she used to cook that you missed and that she can make for you again now that you're out?
Ricky Davis I have a funny story for that. You know, a few days after I was out, I tell her, "You know, Mom, I envision waking up in the morning and you cooking me breakfast;" and she says, "While you were envisioning this, did you envision a different mom?"
Laura Nirider Oh, my God, that's amazing. Strong to the end. I love it. And that's the story of Ricky Davis. Next week, we'll tell you about Michael Hash and his childhood friend, Eric Weakley. When Eric was accused of killing an elderly woman, the pressure of the interrogation room caused him to falsely implicate Michael. Michael's parents never stopped fighting for their son's innocence. And now that he's been exonerated, they're fighting to clear Eric's name, too. Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions is a production of Lava for Good Podcasts, in association with Signal Co. No1. Special thanks to our executive producers, Jason Flom and Kevin Wortis. Our production team is headed by senior producer Anne Pope, along with producers Jaji Hammer and Jess Shane. Our show is mixed by Jeannie Montalvo. John Colbert is our intrepid intern. Our music was composed by J. Ralph. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter @LauraNirider.
Steve Drizin And you can follow me on Twitter @SDrizin.