innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

False confessions

Part 8 of Series: Hosea Davis
Pressured to Plea Despite Claim of Innocence

Pittsburgh Man Now Must Max Out Sentence Due To Lie About Guilt

By Bill Moushey
Innocence Institute of Point Park University

PITTSBURGH -- Mr. Davis had known Tommy Paige since grammar school, both products of the tough streets of East Liberty. Along the way, both racked up convictions for drug and weapons possession charges.

After a wedding reception on Sept. 15, 2001, they drank at a bar in East Liberty, before finishing off the night with some food at the Elks Club on Lincoln Ave. Ameena Fullard, an acquaintance of both, had been drinking heavily and smoking marijuana before she visited the club separately.

Mr. Davis and Mr. Paige entered the after-hours club, ordered chicken dinners then headed downstairs to a dance hall.

On their way out an hour later, they got into a fight in the kitchen over who should have been served first. Mr. Davis, a stout, tattooed man about 190 pounds, crashed about the kitchen with Mr. Paige, who weighed 280 pounds, before a club manager broke them apart and led them out the door.

Still in the doorway, Mr. Davis hurled a punch at Mr. Paige, grazing his face and watching the large man fall backwards, and lay motionless on the ground.

Some assumed Mr. Paige was stunned from hitting his head on a pole before landing. A woman nearby pulled off Davis’ t-shirt to place under Paige’s bleeding head.

The shirtless Mr. Davis went home, only to receive a call minutes later saying Mr. Paige was dead of a stab wound to the chest.

Crime Scene Investigation

Police arrived at the Elks Club by about 5 a.m.; a half hour after the fight was over.

They didn’t find a murder weapon. A handful of the 15 people who remained claimed they saw nothing, but Ms. Fullard had blood all over her from trying to help Ms. Paige after she emerged from the basement dance hall.

Police took her in for questioning and found she had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court in for cashing checks stolen from a nursing home. She also had pending charges for driving a stolen car among a long list of other crimes of deceit.

Six-hours of interrogation later, the drunken, stoned woman was so exhausted she told police what they wanted to hear – she watched Mr. Davis stab his friend.

In the statement, Ms. Fullard said the fight hadn’t ended with a single punch that floored Mr. Paige.

Instead, she said Mr. Davis was so enraged Mr. Paige had knocked out one of his teeth during the fray that he went back into the club, grabbed a shiny weapon, stuffed it up the sleeve of his shirt, burst through the door and stabbed Mr. Paige in the chest.

No one corroborated her story. Mr. Davis did not have a long sleeved shirt on and did not lose any teeth.

In exchange for her statement, Ms. Fullard later said police gave her $500, put her in the city’s witness program and promised to help lessen a series of charges against her if she testified. A jury would hear nothing about any leniency promises. Ms. Fullard was arrested shortly thereafter on a new series of scam-related charges and jailed.

In the year after her testimony convicted Mr. Davis, Ms. Fullard recanted at least three times, so when she called his mother from the Allegheny County jail, Mr. Davis’ mother captured the fourth recantation on tape with the inmate’s consent.

On the tape, she admitted she did not see anything because she was not present during the melee. Claiming she found the Lord in a jail cell, Ms. Fullard said she was haunted by the biblical phrase, “The truth will set you free.”

“I was scared that I was going to be charged with a crime so I told them whatever they wanted to know for them to let me go,” said Ms. Fullard, who also later became a key witness in the institutional sex assault cases against Allegheny County jail guards.

In the taped recantation, Ms. Fullard said she had three times tried to tell Assistant Allegheny County District Attorney Bruce Beemer her testimony was false. She claimed she didn’t come forward earlier because the prosecutor threatened to file perjury charges against her if she did.

Her recantation and other issues in the case caused the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in 2002 to reverse the 3rd Degree Murder conviction and his 20-40 year prison sentence.

After that, an investigation by the Innocence Institute of Point Park University, a partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Point Park University, found four other eyewitnesses never called to testify who also said Ms. Fullard was in the downstairs dance room when the crime occurred.

The taped recantation won Mr. Davis a new trial and plea bargaining began. Initially, he said prosecutors offered him a three year cut from his 20-40 year sentence. After several other offers were refused, Mr. Davis, who already had served three years, agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a 4-8 year sentence.

“I just wanted to get this over with. The first trial took a lot of fight out of me,” he said in a prison interview.

He figured it was worth it to tell Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donald Machen a lie about his involvement because he’d only do another year in prison before he’d be paroled and able to get on with his life.

Mr. Davis made a half-hearted attempt to take responsibility for the crime during the parole hearing without actually admitting it, but the parole officer sent him back to his cell, accusing him of “minimizing the situation of the crime.”

“I told them I’m sorry as hell that he died, he was my buddy, I knew him all my life,” he said, admitting he did minimize his role because he had none in it. What he now knows is he will do the maximum sentence.

“I’m now just sitting here knowing I haven’t done anything,” he said.

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