By Steve Mills
Tribune Staff Reporter
May 17, 1999 

A Chicago man who spent close to eight years on Death Row for a 1985 rape and murder that he insisted he did not commit was cleared Monday, becoming the state's 12th condemned prisoner to be exonerated. 

Cook County prosecutors dropped charges against Ronald Jones in a brief hearing before Judge Kenneth J. Wadas, saying that DNA evidence and additional investigation showed Jones was not responsible for Debra Smith's murder. 

Smith was found dead on March 10, 1985, after she left her apartment on the city's South Side to go to a restaurant. Chicago police said Jones, who was homeless at the time of the killing, gave them a confession to the rape and murder, but Jones and his attorneys contended he was beaten by detectives and that the confession was coerced. 

DNA excluded him as a possible suspect in 1997, and Jones has been held since then in the Cook County Jail as prosecutors tried to decide if they should try him again. 

Bob Benjamin, a spokesman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, said that investigators interviewed more than 100 people and evaluated other evidence before deciding they didn't have a case against Jones. 

"We had to go over everything since 1985," Benjamin said. 

He said the investigation of Smith's murder now is open again. 

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