Girvies Davis (Illinois)  Case Summary Case Chart


On May 17, 1995, the State of Illinois, with acquiescence by the federal government, executed Girvies Davis by lethal injection. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Davis’s right to a free and fair trial. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Davis’s execution.


On December 22, 1978, Charles Biebel, an 89-year-old man, was shot and killed during the course of a robbery in his mobile home in Belleville, Illinois. There were no witnesses to the robbery/murder and there was no physical evidence at the crime scene to help identify the murderer. Girvies Davis was arrested, tried, and convicted of Biebel’s murder.

Salient Issues


Davis, known to the police as a small-time hustler and a thief, was picked up by the police and driven around East St. Louis in a squad car. He testified at a pre-trial hearing that he confessed to a large number of crimes under duress. He was then coerced into signing a series of confessions. Since he was illiterate, he could not read the confessions he signed. In his confession to the Biebel murder, he said he was outside the house when Richard Holman allegedly shot the victim. This confession was the only evidence linking Davis to the crime. Holman was never tried for the murder.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury was never told that Davis was illiterate, nor was it told about the brain damage he had sustained when he was hit by a truck as a child. He was considered borderline mentally retarded and suffered from mental illness and alcoholism. Davis, whether out of shame or ignorance, did not allow his attorneys to present this information to the jury. Had they been able to do so, it might have helped him to avoid a death sentence.


Davis’s conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court on February 18, 1983. Justice Joseph Goldenhersh voted to affirm the conviction, but dissented on the sentence on the grounds that there was no evidence that Davis, not Holman, had been the triggerman. Justice Seymour Simon dissented on both conviction and sentence. The St. Clair County Circuit Court dismissed Davis’s petition for post conviction relief without a hearing. The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously denied his appeal on December 21, 1987. On January 13, 1994 the U.S. District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied Davis’s petition for federal writ of habeas corpus. His petition for a rehearing en banc by Seventh Circuit was denied on April 13, 1994.


Girvies Davis was executed despite compelling evidence of his innocence. The state intentionally excluded all African Americans from the jury, a practice later found to be an unconstitutional form of racial discrimination. The only evidence against Davis was his confession, which he claimed was coerced. Many of his other confessions were found to be false. Other evidence, such as his illiteracy, brain damage, and mental impairments was not presented to the jury. Another man, thought to be the triggerman in this case, was never tried for the crime.


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