US~Observer Note: In an effort to spread wrongful conviction awareness, the US~Observer launched our first “wrongful Conviction Day” (WCD) writing contest.
It gives us great honor to share the story of Jason Davis, of Kentucky. We hope Jason’s story helps shed light on the injustice that is fueling Criminal Justice Reform across this nation. Thank you Jason, you’re our first annual WCD Winner!
By Jason Davis
Most people stereotype Kentucky in numerous ways: KY fried chicken; horses; bourbon; bigfoot; pregnant; inbred; no teeth; whiskey; moonshine. You name it, we probably have it here in KY. I grew up in the hills of Eastern KY. I was born into a family of poverty, a very real issue not only in KY, but Appalachia and other parts of the U.S., and world for that matter. My father was an alcoholic, my mother temporarily abandoned me, drugs, alcohol, argumentation were all abound. Odds were in favor of me either becoming like my dad, broke as a joke, or succumbing to drugs, much like the meth and heroin problem so prevalent in society today.
I didn’t want to give in to the past. I wanted to provide for my family, so I valued education, a rare quality in Eastern KY. I excelled in classes, often at the top of my class. I graduated high school with honors, among the top fifteen people in my class. I went on to college at Eastern Kentucky University, located in Richmond KY. to be a Math Teacher with a minor in Computer Science. After graduation, things seemed to be on the up and up, a bright future ahead. I tutored kids in math, taught math labs, with many calling me the brightest person they had ever seen.
In October 2008, I came to a small rural town in Southeast KY with the aspirations to be a High School Math Teacher. I enjoyed teaching others, and wanted to serve as a role model, changing and influencing lives in a culture, area, and society where education is not the norm. I participated in many things: prom, football games, chaperoned, academic team, you name it, I was involved in every way possible. Heck, I played video games with students. Read that again. Video Games? With Students? Yes, as a way to bond with them, we played video games. Some may agree with my tactics, some may not, but that is beside the point. I reached out; showed I cared. High school offers many challenges with kids: drama, relationships, fights, bullying, etc. Nearly every day I had to deal with an onslaught of various issues. Some kids liked me, others hated me. I had kids that really looked up to me, and it was a very rewarding feeling. As a teacher, if you influence and teach even one kid, you have done your job successfully.
As the school year progressed, and discipline issues grew exponentially, I could see signs my future was not as solid and secure as I had once thought. Never in my wildest dreams could I have foresaw what was about to transpire.
I did have kids that wanted to learn, which was very gratifying from a teacher’s perspective. I did have kids that would make a special effort to come by my classroom, tell me good morning, ask me about my day, even sending me happy birthday wishes on the local radio. I had several kids make me birthday cards, pied me in the face with cake, so I went above and beyond to try to bond with kids. A few liked my style, but most did not.
Fast forward to May 2009. May 19th would be the day that sealed my fate. A few of my students, about 3 to 4 in number spread a rumor about me that I was going to kill 500 kids on the last day of school and it would be the most remembered day in history, even making headlines on CNN. I am not a violent person by nature, nor would I ever do such a thing.
After being placed on administrative leave, local police came to my residence to search for evidence of guns, plans, anything related to terrorism. What did they find? A set of steak knives. Now most understand such knives are used for cutting meat, correct? Well the police felt I was going to stab 500 kids with them! Really?
Needless to say, events transpired that led me to be served with a warrant for my arrest with the charge of 2nd degree Terroristic Threatening, a class D felony. I would be looking at 1-5 years in prison if convicted, changing my life forever. I was interviewed by police and got the good cop/bad cop routine, known as the Reed Technique. Eventually, the investigator slammed his recorder against the wall. He stated, “You’re lying, I know you are lying, its people like you that are ruining society as it is, and I will see to it you are locked up if it’s the last thing I do.” Parents kept kids home from school intentionally, just to have me arrested. Unreal.
I was taken to a local detention center (specifics edited for confidentiality out of respect). I was initially taken to what is called the “Drunk Tank.” Basically a detox of sorts for people to flush alcohol out of their system. I don’t drink. Shortly thereafter, lots of media ranging from local TV to Newspapers came to interview me. I had nothing to hide, so I told them like it was. Media offers much bias however, and I was a social pariah. I had an arraignment, appeared before a judge, etc. A bond was set for 10,000 dollars even thought I had no criminal past.
I sat among various inmates with horrible charges and convictions. Murder, rape, swindling, molesters, I was among it all. These are the people you try to stay away from in society. Was I really one of these people? What would I say to God, given I have tried to lead such a Christian life of being nice to others? I was brought up with morals, values, respect, courtesy, by the people who raised me – many things so lacking in the world today. My father died while I was in jail. I never really got the chance to know him, and my mom pretty much abandoned me, not wanting to get involved. I had no support from my own family.
It took thirty days to make bond. I bonded myself out with two credit cards, creating quite the financial hardship. For roughly another year, I feared for my future, but trusted in the good hands of a lawyer in a nearby town. Together, with his help, and the help and support of close friends, I organized everything to prepare for a trial in August 2010. My future would soon be decided.
I appeared before a Circuit Court Judge. Bear in mind, I have never appeared in court or before a judge in my entire life. A jury was selected and trial ensued. The prosecution called student witnesses. They were dressed in raggedy clothes, baggy pants, skull and crossbones, certainly not proper attire for courtroom appearances. During questioning they redacted statements they previously said, wrote, swore an affidavit to, etc. Things started swinging in my direction. The Chief Investigator testified along with a couple other witnesses before the prosecution rested.
Next was my defense. My lawyer hit hard and didn’t hold back any punches so to speak. I had a few friends testify on my behalf, and then I testified. I was already hot, sweaty, nervous, headache, nintey-degree plus day, heat of summer on the top floor of the courthouse. There couldn’t have been worse circumstances, I don’t believe. As I took the stand, I told my story and stuck to the truth. During cross examination, the Prosecution brought up matters of my past in regard to mental illness, former friends, associations, people I lived with, etc. They pulled out all the tricks. They wanted to nail me or trip me up somehow. With pressure mounting, I stayed the course and didn’t back down even though frustration really sets in during cross examination by the prosecution. They saw the ship sinking, having banked on the kids previous testimony.
The trial was long, lasting from 9 a.m. until after 6 p.m. Closing arguments were given. One thing to note here, no physical evidence was ever presented. No guns, no elaborate plans, no Facebook or social media posts, etc. The court adjourned, and the Jury went to deliberate. I felt doomed – my life was over as I knew it. I walked to a friend’s place and considered having a “last meal” of sorts. Who knew how things would transpire?
In a shocking surprise, the Jury only took just short of 10 minutes to deliberate. The Bailiff entered the courtroom, every one stood for the Judge. The Foreman of the Jury presented a verdict of NOT GUILTY! Finally, a horrific ordeal had come to an end. The Prosecution was fit to be tied, but law is law, and the Jurors ruled in my favor. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, patted the back of my lawyer, and shared a heart-felt smile with my friends in attendance. Afterword, talk of a counter-suit against the school board, police, etc arose. My lawyer didn’t want to partake in that, nor did many other lawyers due to sovereign immunity, so I decided to move on with my life, though the pain still lingers inside to this very day. The school district has faced many issues over the years from cheating on state exams, teacher affairs with students, and a guy who cheated on his GED to stay on the school board. All truly saddening for the kids. All I wanted was to provide them the necessary tools to make a better life.
Why do I say all of this after an acquittal? Well, one thing to consider is the wrongful arrest. In the words of my lawyer, “He (me) should have never been arrested.” Once the dust settles after trial, the media interviewed me again, asking me where do I go from here? Forum sites showed numerous comments, like: “This guy should write a book, be on a talk show, make himself known.” I am not one for Hollywood fame or anything of the like.
I often wonder how such a thing could happen to me. I graduated top of my class, went to college, tried to lead a good life, had no previous criminal record, and then wham – jail and a trial. Absolutely no evidence, just hearsay statements that kids made, which were regurgitated by other teachers to investigating officers. I set the bar high for myself, and for my students. I didn’t expect them to be rocket scientists or into astrophysics or even Albert Einstein. My goal was to prepare them for the future. I wanted to show them a better future, not see them unprepared for life and continued generational poverty stemming from a poor education. Some liked my efforts, but in the end, it was futile. It was not wanted, and to the present day, corruption rules all in Southeast Kentucky.
What point am I trying to get across? That bad things do happen to good people. However, media is so quick to say guilty before proven innocent rather than the opposite. Society is cruel in this day and age. I got lucky. I could just as easily be sitting in a prison where who knows how it would be? Maybe raped, beaten, loss of life, nervous breakdown, who really knows? So, I ask you to consider my story for Wrongful Conviction Day. Even though I was not wrongfully convicted, part of me still feels that I was convicted – convicted until I was proven innocent. Maybe my story will open eyes and inspire others who are facing similar circumstances. Maybe it will shine light on a very crooked area in Southeast Kentucky and show that it can happen anywhere, at anytime, to anyone. My story is a strong testament of that.