Man exonerated by Innocence Project gives presentation

 Only direct evidence against Donya Davis was victim’s identification in 2006 rape


Donya Davis, the man whom WMU-Cooley’s Innocence project recently helped win release from prison and get charges dropped by the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office, spoke at WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus during a Q&A session on Nov. 12.

After serving almost seven years in prison after a 2007 rape conviction, for a crime he did not commit, Davis was exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing. He was released on bond on June 20, 2014, pending a new trial. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed all charges against him on Thursday, Nov. 6. 

Kareem Johnson, a 2008 graduate of WMU-Cooley Law School, was Davis’ court-appointed counsel. Johnson, together with WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, successfully negotiated the dismissal of the charges. 

“Mr. Davis’ innocence was revealed in March and we are grateful this long ordeal has finally ended,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project.

In 2013, the WMU-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, Virginia, 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.

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. Experts in the field, however, say that misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.

Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in nearly 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing. 

“Now that the charges have been dismissed, Donya can get on with his life,” stated Mitchell-Cichon. “Unfortunately, he will not be compensated by the state of Michigan for his time in prison. There are 30 states, along with the District of Columbia, that do provide compensation for wrongfully convicted persons, but Michigan does not. Our state is among 20 states without a compensation law in place.”

Since his release, Davis has been seeking employment and has leads on two possible jobs. The last step before he could be employed was for his criminal case to be dismissed. Davis also plans to go back to school. “I want to finish my paralegal studies so I can help bring awareness to this problem,” he said.

The purpose of the WMU-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 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’ case.