Innocence Project Responds to Release of Barry Jones After 29 Years on Death Row
"While we celebrate Mr. Jones's freedom, it does not change the fact that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shinn vs. Ramirez and Jones will have a devastating impact on thousands of innocent people."
06.16.23 By Christina Swarns
After nearly 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, Barry Jones was released from prison yesterday. The Pima County Superior Court vacated his capital murder conviction and death sentence after the Arizona Attorney General acknowledged that Mr. Jones did not receive a fair trial and was wrongfully convicted of capital murder and wrongfully sentenced to death in Arizona for fatally assaulting Rachel Gray, a four-year-old child.
In 2022, the United States Supreme Court denied Mr. Jones the opportunity to prove to the federal courts that the jury that convicted him in 1995 never heard the available medical, forensic and witness testimony that would have undermined the prosecution’s case against him because of his trial attorneys’ ineffective failure to investigate. The Court held that the federal courts could not consider his evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel because it was not first presented to state courts. With this decision, Shinn vs. Ramirez and Jones, the Supreme Court left thousands of people in the nightmarish position of having no court to hear their credible claims of innocence.
After his conviction at trial, Mr. Jones received appointed counsel for post-conviction review — this was the one and only opportunity to prove wrongful conviction based on incompetent trial representation afforded to him by Arizona state law. Unfortunately, Mr. Jones’s post-conviction counsel never challenged the adequacy of his trial representation and his post-conviction petitions were denied.
Years after Mr. Jones’s state post-conviction proceedings, four bipartisan federal judges reviewed his conviction and concluded that a minimally competent defense investigation would have uncovered extensive forensic evidence demonstrating that the victim’s fatal injury could not have been inflicted when she was in Mr. Jones’s care. The federal judges also found that the state’s investigation had failed to follow basic standards to preserve potentially exonerating evidence or investigate other suspects. However, the United States Supreme Court reversed that decision in 2022. Dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the decision “perverse” and “illogical.”
Although the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision left Mr. Jones on death row, at the urging of counsel for Mr. Jones, the State of Arizona reconsidered the evidence in his case. After a careful review, the Arizona Attorney General agreed that Mr. Jones’s conviction for assaulting Rachel and the resulting death sentence should be vacated. The Arizona Attorney General joined Mr. Jones in asking the Pima County Superior Court to vacate his convictions and death sentence.
While we celebrate Mr. Jones’s freedom, it does not change the fact that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shinn vs. Ramirez and Jones will have a devastating impact on the thousands of innocent people in our criminal legal system seeking post-conviction relief. Mr. Jones is incredibly fortunate to have had attorneys who sought every possible avenue of relief and a prosecutor willing to reconsider his case. Many equally innocent people will not have such opportunities and, as a result, they will remain behind bars when they should be home with their friends and families.
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