Dear Gov. Hickenlooper: Here's Why You Should Pardon Bob Davis Now
Dear Governor Hickenlooper,
I'd like to bring your attention to an incredible injustice — one that will soon be shared with a nationwide audience sure to be shocked by the unnecessary damage done to a very admirable man who just happens to live and work in Denver.
And you're the only person who can set things right — or at least do everything you and the State of Colorado should to restore the good name of a man who's gone through hell, yet remains a person who cares more for others than he does for himself.
The individual in question is Bob Davis, who's at the center of a new documentary entitled Once Upon a Crime: The Borrelli-Davis Conspiracy. It screened twice in recent days at the Denver Film Festival, with both Davis and Michael Borrelli, the other title figure, in attendance. They were joined by numerous members of their family, who have stood by them despite their convictions for a murder in which there's no credible evidence they played the slightest part.
The story revolves around the 1975 slaying of Hal Levine, a furniture store owner who backed Borrelli, a former New York City police detective, and others in a Denver-area Italian restaurant.
After Levine's death, Borrelli was targeted for the murder by a Denver Police Department organized crime task force even though he was in NYC at the time Levine was killed (and Levine's wife was gravely injured). The police theory: Borrelli arranged for the killing of Levine, who'd racked up an enormous pile of gambling debts, in order to get an insurance payout based on policies all the partners in the restaurant had taken out in each others' names.
As for the trigger men, the DPD zeroed in on Terry D'Prero and Davis, Borrelli's partner on the New York City force, who'd once visited the Mile High City. The informant was D'Prero, who was given immunity from prosecution for pointing his finger at Borrelli and Davis.
The problems with this theory, as pointed out by filmmaker Sheldon Wilson over the course of Once Upon a Crime, were many. For one thing, Davis didn't fit the description of the gunman according to Levine's wife. For another, D'Prero had been diagnosed as a pathological liar.
Nonetheless, the prosecution of Borrelli and Davis went forward amid a great deal of local hoopla driven in large part by a profile of Borrelli in the defunct Denver magazine that portrayed him as a "Colorado Godfather" — a tie-in to the Godfather films that had been dominating popular culture during the period.
The task force itself also pushed hard against Borrelli and Davis. Why? Wilson's theory is that the unit was about to lose its funding because it had little success in showing that Colorado had a significant organized crime problem. Without a high-profile score, it was likely to have been disbanded.
Eventually, Borrelli was convicted and given a life sentence, while Davis was found guilty of conspiracy and ordered to spend thirty to 45 years behind bars.
Bob Davis's family during a prison visit, before his incarceration led to the end of his marriage.
In the years that followed, Borrelli was granted a new trial based on plenty of irregularities in the original proceeding, including the admission of hearsay evidence — and a second jury found him innocent.
That would seem to have been good news for Davis. After all, if the person he was supposed to have conspired with didn't commit the crime, he had to be guilt-free as well, right? Yet somehow, Davis's two appeals were rejected and he wound up serving twelve years before finally being paroled. By then, however, his marriage had fallen apart and his kids' lives had been changed for the worse.
After his release, Davis became a family therapist — a certificate shown in the movie notes that he was voted the therapist of the year in Colorado a while back — and he currently works for Catholic Charities at Samaritan House. Yet the conspiracy conviction remains on his record.
Following Saturday's screening of the film. Wilson, Borrelli and Davis took part in a Q&A, and audience members immediately started asking about a pardon for Davis — something that will undoubtedly happen on an infinitely larger scale in March, when the film is scheduled to air on PBS nationwide.
In response, Wilson said that at previous screenings, lawyers had spoken to him about wanting to act on Davis's behalf — but as he noted, such an effort would only work in Colorado. Then he asked, "Does anyone know the governor?"
Well, I don't know you, Governor Hickenlooper, beyond a couple of quick greetings years ago. But I feel confident that when Once Upon a Crime airs, viewers by the thousands will be wondering how on earth you could fail to address Davis's situation.
Terry D'Prero and then-Sergeant Robert Cantwell at a Denver courthouse in 1976.
Wouldn't it be better to do the right thing now?
Granted, there may be some law enforcement push-back to a pardon. The film portrays Robert Cantwell, a sergeant on the organized crime task force who rose to head the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, as a callow careerist more concerned with keeping the unit alive and protecting a guilty man (D'Prero, who went on to become a member of Texas' most wanted list, and who lies up a storm after being found by director Wilson) than the possibility that he was railroading two innocent men.
Counter-balancing these political concerns is Davis himself. During his talk with the audience, he displayed a tremendous amount of courage and grace, speaking movingly about the importance of forgiveness and happily changing the subject to encourage members of the audience to donate used clothing and coats to Catholic Charities in advance of the impending winter. Since winning his freedom, he's lived an exemplary life — but the conviction continues to eat at him, and understandably so.
You can change this dynamic once and for all.
Don't simply believe me. Have someone from your office contact the filmmakers at their website or Facebook page and get the details. I'm sure they'll provide your staffers with everything they could possibly need to determine that Davis should be exonerated once and for all.
Good politicians (and I believe there are such people) get into their line of work to right wrongs — and the mark against Davis couldn't be more egregious. If you don't do something about it now, you'll hear an outcry from PBS viewers a few months from now.
Look below to see a trailer for Once Upon a Crime.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.