Final execution case with Bush as Texas governor under scrutiny
The Associated Press
Monday, September 10, 2007
HOUSTON: A Texas judge on Monday sided with an anti-death penalty group seeking to find out whether an inmate was wrongly executed, ruling that officials must keep a 1-inch (2.5-centimeter)-long piece of hair that was a key piece of evidence in the man's murder trial almost two decades ago.
The Innocence Project wants to know whether Claude Jones was wrongly executed in December 2000. Jones was the last of a record 40 inmates executed in America's busiest capital punishment state that year and the last of 152 inmates put to death during now-President George W. Bush's time as Texas governor.
The piece of hair led to Jones' conviction and execution for the 1989 shooting death of a liquor store owner in San Jacinto County, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Houston.
State District Judge Elizabeth Coker set a hearing for Oct. 3 to consider whether DNA testing should be performed on the hair.
The Innocence Project, a legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, was among plaintiffs seeking the court order and the mitochondrial DNA testing, which was not available when Jones was tried.
"This was a case that really cried out for DNA testing because the physical evidence was so central to the conviction and it's very clear DNA testing can establish either way whether or not Claude Jones was wrongfully executed," Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison said.
"Especially now that he's already been executed, the public interest really is in determining whether the procedures that were in place for determining innocence or guilt and whether someone should be executed were correct," she said.
At Jones' trial, an expert in hair analysis linked the hair to Jones. With his execution imminent, the inmate filed, and later asked to withdraw, an 11th-hour state court plea seeking DNA testing.
Other than the hair, the primary evidence against Jones was testimony from an accomplice, Timothy Jordan, who said Jones told him he committed the murder. Jordan and another man, Kerry Dixon, initially were arrested for the slaying. Jones was arrested later. Jordan got a 10-year prison term and Dixon a 60-year sentence. In an affidavit in 2004, Jordan said everything he said about the robbery and killing at the trial he learned from Dixon and that he testified against Jones to get a lighter sentence for himself.
The single strand of Jones' hair, found at the murder scene, was supposed to have been destroyed with the case long resolved but inexplicably was not.
"It's really a miracle it's preserved at all," Morrison said.
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