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Oct. 29, 1998

JUSTICE SYSTEM
Oops
Woman is cleared after police and prosecutors upend her life.

By BILL LUEDERS
 

Please pardon Patricia L. Davis if she's not jumping for joy that the Dane County District Attorney's Office has dismissed felony charges against her after belatedly confirming that a far more likely suspect was to blame all along.

 "I've gone through hell for the past year and a half," says Davis, a former nurse's aide charged with forging a check stolen from an elderly patient. "I felt like I was in a nightmare."

 Davis, who has no criminal history, is on the verge of tears as she recalls being arrested and thrown in jail last spring, then losing both her state nurse's aide license and city taxi-cab drivers permit based on the charges. This led to her being fired from St. Mary's Care Center and Madison Metro, respectively, and to months of scraping to afford her $600-a-month apartment working two new jobs while incurring thousands of dollars of legal bills to keep from being convicted of a crime she didn't commit.

 In fact, as Davis argued all along, her ID was snatched and name forged by a former St. Marys coworker, Deanise Hollingsworth, who committed a spate of nearly identical crimes for which she is now serving a six-year prison term. But police failed to investigate this possibility, because Det. Rick Miller, using handwriting samples that Davis voluntarily provided, concluded that she had forged the check. (See "A reasonable doubt,"
9/11/98.)

 The case unraveled only after Dan Stein, Davis' attorney, located samples of Hollingsworth's handwriting in another county; these were sent to the State Crime Lab
for analysis.

 On Monday, Oct. 26, less than two weeks before Davis was to go on trial (and more than six months after she was arrested and charged), the DA's office learned that the Crime Lab's handwriting expert, Marshall Reed, had positively pegged Hollingsworth as the forger. On Tuesday morning, Judge Maryann Sumi signed the state's motion to
dismiss.

 "I certainly regret very much what Ms. Davis has been through," says Asst. DA Ann Sayles, who has already contacted the state agency that yanked Davis' nurses aide
license. But Sayles defends her office: "Every action we took was based on the evidence we had at that time."

 Stein, who thinks the case undersores the importance of defense attorneys, is gracious in victory--up to a point. "I think Ann [Sayles] is honorable and did the honorable thing," he says. "I think the police owe Patty an apology." 

Davis feels she's owed more than that; she's now looking for a lawyer who specializes in civil suits.
 

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