SYCAMORE – The man convicted of murdering another man near Northern Illinois University’s campus in 1999 would be free if DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack had honored a second-degree murder plea agreement his predecessor approved.
Yaphet Davis, however, is headed back to prison after Schmack successfully rescinded the offer and a judge denied Davis’ petition claiming his previous attorneys made serious mistakes during his trial and subsequent appeals.
Court records show that in the final hours of former State’s Attorney Clay Campbell’s administration, then-prosecutor Julie Trevarthen reaffirmed a deal made months earlier but that hadn’t been finalized in open court. Originally she had told defense attorneys the deal couldn’t be entered until November, but her boss, Campbell, lost the Nov. 6 election to Schmack.
Campbell did not return calls Friday seeking comment, but Schmack suggested the timing of the negotiations under Campbell’s administration had political undertones.
“Given the timeframe and the statements in the public defender’s motion to enforce the plea agreement, I think the timing of the implementation may have had a connection to the date of the election,” Schmack said.
Under the deal, Davis’ first-degree murder conviction would be overturned and Davis would be sentenced to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder, court records show. Unlike first-degree murder sentences, second-degree murder sentences are eligible for good-behavior credit, so David would have been obligated to serve 10 years of the 20-year sentence, Schmack said. He would have been released immediately, having served 14 years in prison.
Davis, now 37, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for shooting Eddie Hall of Chicago in the back Oct. 9, 1999, in the 800 block of Crane Drive in DeKalb. Davis, then 23, told authorities that Hall and three of Hall’s friends kidnapped him, beat him and held him hostage for ransom, court records show.
Hall claimed the ransom was short and moved to attack Davis with a knife when someone handed Davis a gun and Hall started running, court records show. Hall fled, and Davis shot him, court records show.
Davis unsuccessfully appealed his case to the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court, so next he appealed his case in DeKalb County court. In May 2012, Trevarthen traded emails with then-Public Defender Regina Harris that seemed optimistic about a deal in regards to the appeal.
“I haven’t been able to make contact with the necessary cops or the victim’s family yet. I’m working on it,” Trevarthen said in the email. “Obviously, nothing is a sure thing, but I will eat a pair of smelly shoes if I can’t get 20 years on second degree.”
After Assistant Public Defender Charles Criswell took over Davis’ case, Trevarthen told him in August 2012 that the 20-year deal was good but couldn’t be entered until November, court records show. Trevarthen did not join Schmack’s administration when he took office Dec. 3.
On Nov. 30, the final day of Campbell’s administration, Trevarthen, Campbell and Criswell traded emails about the agreement. Criswell and another prosecutor discussed it with Judge Robbin Stuckert, but prosecutors declined to have the agreement entered in court that day.
After Schmack took office, Assistant State’s Attorney Duke Harris told Criswell the new administration would not honor the agreement. Criswell challenged this in court, but Judge John McAdams supported prosecutors. On July 26, McAdams denied Davis’ request for a new trial; Davis can appeal McAdams’ decision to the Illinois Appellate Court.
For his part, Schmack said he wouldn’t have considered negotiating with Davis until a judge ruled on Davis’ appeal.
“The idea that we’re then going to drop the case without even airing whether he had adequate representation and turn first-degree murder into second-degree murder, that just didn’t sit right with me,” Schmack said. “I didn’t think it was appropriate.”