A Middlesex Superior Court judge has ordered a new trial for a Lowell man convicted of murdering a young mother on the steps of Lowell City Hall 33 years ago — even though prosecutors contend he incriminated himself in the brutal attack.
Superior Court Judge Maynard M. Kirpalani ruled that Arthur Davis is entitled to a retrial because DNA testing of blood evidence has completely broken the forensic connection that prosecutors originally used to link him to the murdered woman, 23-year-old Patricia S. Richard.
The “newly discovered DNA evidence appears to eliminate the entirety of the physical evidence the prosecution relied on in linking Davis to the victim and the crime scene, a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice exists,’’ Kirpalani wrote in a decision made public this week. “This court concludes...a new trial is warranted.”
Davis was represented by the New England Innocence Project, which drew on a 2012 state law that explicitly gives defendants a statutory right to forensic evidence to be tested by current science if they can show they were possibly wrongly convicted.
Davis, according to David M. Siegel of the Innocence Project, has steadfastly insisted that he was “actually innocent” of the crime for the past 33 years. Siegel, along with co-counsel Christopher Schultz, plan to ask a judge to release Davis while Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office decides whether to push ahead with a new trial or to appeal Kirpalani’s decision.
“We are going to seek Mr. Davis’s release as soon as possible,’’ said Siegel, who is also a professor at New England Law in Boston. “This man has been incarcerated for 33 years now . . . There are no eyewitnesses. This entire case was built around physical evidence.”
Ryan’s office, which inherited the case, was studying Kirpalani’s ruling and declined comment.
According to court records and Lowell Sun coverage of the trial, Richard was meeting with friends in Lowell nightspots and was likely heading toward an all-night diner when she was intercepted by her killer, who viciously beat her and left her alive, but unclothed, in subfreezing cold that contributed to her death on Feb. 10, 1985.
There was no known personal tie between Davis and Richards, according to court records.
During his trial in Middlesex Superior Court, prosecutors connected the then-19-year-old Davis to the death of Richard — who had given birth 10 days before she was killed — based partly on blood found on a pool cue, a lavender bag, a comforter, a pair of grey corduroy pants, and a blood-stained Newport cigarette found next to the victim’s body.
But now the DNA testing done on the blood on the cigarette was found to belong to a man — but it was not Davis.
“The [DNA] testing provides credible evidence that the victim’s DNA profile was not detected on any of the blood samples tested that were taken from items in Davis’s home or belongings, and that Davis’s DNA profile was excluded from physical evidence recovered at the scene,’’ Kirpalani wrote.
Ryan’s office argued to Kirpalani that he was giving too much weight to the forensic issue and should direct his attention to Davis’s confession, which the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 1988 was freely given.
According to prosecutors, Davis provided Lowell police with details of how Richard died during a series of interviews in the week after Richard was killed. He allegedly told a friend, “I killed her for a red and white polka dot dress.” He allegedly told a co-worker about Richard’s death hours before it became publicly known.
But the defense points out that Davis had serious chronic mental health illness, bipolar disorder, and was committed to Bridgewater State Hospital while awaiting trial. He also was openly gay while Richard’s body was found unclothed in an exterior stairwell at City Hall. And he never signed a confession after being interrogated for about 10 hours, according to court records.John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.