An El Dorado Superior Court judge sentenced a Roseville man to 15 years to life in prison for stabbing a woman to death 37 years ago, a crime that initially led to the wrongful conviction of an innocent man who was later exonerated by DNA evidence.
Michael Green, 54, in July pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the 1985 slaying of Jane Hylton. Judge Suzanne Kingsbury sentenced Green on Tuesday. He remained in custody Wednesday at the El Dorado County Jail awaiting transfer to a prison.
Ricky Davis, who in 2005 was found guilty of killing Hylton, had always maintained his innocence. In 2021, his murder conviction was reversed and a new trial was set after the Northern California Innocence Project got involved.
Davis had been sentenced to 16 years in prison and was incarcerated until February 2020, when his conviction was tossed out with the blessing of prosecutors.
The same DNA evidence used to exonerate Davis led investigators to another suspect, Green, who was arrested on the murder charge. Prosecutors said the primary evidence against Davis was the false confession of a co-defendant.
“Justice has been served, but it took too long, and some awful mistakes were made in the past to get to this moment,” El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson said in a news release. “I have personally apologized to Ricky Davis and also want to say we are sorry to Jane Hylton’s family for the mistakes in handling this case in the past.”
Jane Hylton was murdered in her home
Hylton, a 54-year-old newspaper columnist who covered social events for the Foothills Times, was found dead inside her El Dorado Hills home on July 7, 1985. She was stabbed 29 times.
Green was 17 years old at the time of Hylton’s murder. Davis was 20 at the time and lived with his 19-year-old girlfriend, Connie Dahl, in the house where Hylton was killed.
The case went unsolved until 1999, when El Dorado County sheriff’s detectives reopened the murder investigation and questioned Dahl, who reportedly changed her story for the detectives and implicated Davis as the killer over the course of four interviews.
Years after Davis’ wrongful conviction, prosecutors sought help from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s crime lab to analyze the remnants of Hylton’s nightgown. The case was the first in California history — and only second nationally — to both exonerate a wrongfully convicted person and pinpoint a different suspect, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has said.
Prosecutors said the confession that led to Davis’ wrongful conviction was obtained through the use of aggressive interrogation techniques now known to be more likely to produce false confessions. The murder case and its final outcome has led the District Attorney’s Office to change its policy.
Pushing for change in interrogation tactics
Pierson said this week his office will now limit the filing of criminal charges on any case in which the primary evidence against the suspect consists of a confession obtained through the use of threats, deception or psychologically manipulative interrogation tactics.
“This case has been a game changer,” Pierson said in the news release. “It has forced me to push back against some long-held interrogation practices among investigators and has set me on a path toward changing the way our office and prosecutors across the country find the truth using a better, scientifically proven method.”
Pierson wants to spearhead a nationwide campaign to change the way investigators interview suspects and witnesses, hoping his changes will become a standard among prosecutors. He said investigators should use a rapport-based, information-seeking approach because the scientific research shows it’s more effective.
Prosecutors in Pierson’s office said implementing this policy change may create “significant concern by our law enforcement partners,” but this change ultimately protects the integrity of the criminal justice system by avoiding false confessions and convicting those truly responsible for crimes.
“We need to make changes now so that false confessions don’t lead to any more innocent people getting wrongfully imprisoned,” Pierson said in the news release.