Felony murder defendant gets new trial in light of new evidence
New testimony from other inmates after conviction enough to warrant a
new trial, regardless of whether detective’s testimony was
By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer,
State Bar of Wisconsin
31, 2011 – The District I Wisconsin Court of Appeals used its
power of discretionary reversal to grant a new trial to Kenneth Davis,
convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison for felony murder.
In 2000, three men committed a burglary that resulted in the death of a
resident. Police hauled Davis in for questioning. The detective
testified that Davis admitted being present at the burglarized home, but
asked for an attorney when he learned he could not speak off the
Police wrote down a summary of the interview with Davis, and asked
whether the statements were accurate after Davis asked for an attorney.
The detective testified that Davis verified the accuracy of the
statement but refused to sign it.
In addition, a co-defendant Armond Henderson, who
entered a plea agreement, testified that Davis was a co-actor in the
burglary and shooting, and Davis’ former cellmate Richard Ringstad, testified
that Davis admitted being involved in the robbery while the two were
Based on the testimony of the detective, Henderson and Ringstad, Davis was convicted. But after
sentencing, Davis learned that Henderson and Ringstad may have lied. In his post-conviction
motion, he also asserted that the detective’s testimony was
v. Davis, 2010AP1856 (Aug.
23, 2011), the appeals court granted Davis a new hearing, concluding
that its power of discretionary reversal was warranted because the real
controversy in the case – whether Davis was the third burglar
– was not fully tried.
The appeals court ruled that the jury did not have the opportunity to
weigh the detective’s testimony against new evidence, regardless
of whether admitted in violation of Edwards v. Arizona, 451
U.S. 477 (1981). Thus, it was not harmless error
to admit it.
New testimony revealed that Henderson may have told others Davis was
not involved. The state argued that such evidence went to
Henderson’s credibility and was not affirmative evidence of
innocence sufficient to warrant a new trial. The appeals court
“In its closing arguments, the State heavily emphasized
Henderson’s testimony that Davis was the third robber,”
Judge Kessler wrote. “We cannot conclude that the State’s
argument and the trial testimony to which it referred had no effect on
the jury verdict.”
The appeals court also noted new testimony that Ringstad lied about Davis’ jailhouse
confession to increase his chances of a transfer to a minimum security
“This testimony, combined with the testimony already described,
directly contradicts Ringstad’s
testimony – a key element in the State’s case against Davis.
The jury never had an opportunity to weigh these competing versions of
the critical facts in the trial,” Judge Kessler explained.