by Edmond Geary
Texas executed a man whom DNA now shows should not have been convicted. Claude Jones is the second man Texas has executed this year whose convicted was called into question by DNA tests results-after he was executed.
Jones was executed 10 years ago. As his execution approached, his lawyers implored then-Governor George W. Bush to grant a DNA test on the one piece of physical evidence that tied Jones to the crime. But the governor’s aides failed to get that request to the governor. Busch only knew of Jones’s request for a stay of execution, and he denied that. The execution went forward.
Jones was convicted of the 1989 liquor store shooting of a liquor store owner named Allen Hitzendager near Point Blank, Texas. He was accompanied in a robbery by two accomplices. One of the accomplices, Timothy Jordan, testified that Jones told him he was the triggerman. The only other evidence was the human hair.
The DNA test result does not prove Jones was innocent of the crime, but it does prove his conviction was invalid. The test was performed on a single hair, which was the only piece of physical evidence tying Jones to the crime scene. Under Texas law, the testimony of an accomplice alone is insufficient to convict. Without the hair as evidence, the only primary evidence against Jones was the uncorroborated testimony of accomplice, Jordan. A side note is that Jordan recanted his testimony three years after Jones’s execution, claiming he only “testified to what they told me to say.” That is the sort of thing that makes wonder, but since it came three years after Jones had already executed, it would any easy thing for Jordan to do.
The DNA test was performed on the hair at the request of Jones’s son, Duane, with the help of the Innocence Project, some other groups and the Texas Observer magazine. Prosecutors agreed to the test. Barry Scheck, one of the founders of the Innocence Project, thought it was “outrageous” no one told Governor George Bush that Jones was asking for the DNA test. But Scheck does not blame Bush. Scheck even believes it is moral certainty that Bush would have granted a month’s reprieve had he known the test was being requested.
At trial, prosecutors presented a forensic expert to testify that he had examined the hair in question microscopically and concluded it could have come from Jones but not from the store owner or from the other robbery accomplice, Danny Dixon who drove the getaway car.
Danny Dixon had previously been convicted of shooting a girl between the eyes and burying her. Claude Jones, a career criminal, himself had a notable past, which prosecutors stressed at trial. Jones, while serving a prison sentence in Kansas, had poured a flammable liquid on his cellmate to set him on fire, killing him. Jones never admitted having committed the shooting for which he was executed, although he expressed in his final statement his hope that the liquor store owner’s family would find closure.
Texas holds the distinction of being number one among the states in executions. It has executed 464 people in the last 30 years. No one has ever been proved to innocent after being executed, but Claude Jones is not the only one in Texas whose conviction is in doubt. Just this year, the conviction of Cameron Todd Willingham was called into question when experts questioned whether a crime had been committed. Willingham was executed in 2004 in Texas for the 1991 setting of a fire that killed his three daughters. Some eminent experts in the field of fire analysis have since studied the evidence in that case and have concluded that the investigation was so flawed that a finding of arson could not be supported.