News 05.21.10

Time Magazine: Death and Innocence

Advanced DNA testing on a one-inch strand of hair could prove whether a Texas man was wrongfully executed in 2000, and

a new story in Time magazine

delves into the case.

The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network filed motions in state court in San Jacinto County, Texas, three years ago asking for a temporary restraining order that would prevent officials from destroying the only piece of physical evidence in the case. The lawsuit also seeks a court order to conduct DNA testing that could determine whether the hair matches Claude Jones, who was convicted of murder in 1990 and executed on December 7, 2000.

A separate lawsuit has been filed by Jones’ son, Duane Jones, who believes that since he is the next of kin, the hair belongs to him. Prosecutors are opposing testing, however, and seeking to destroy the hair. San Jacinto County district attorney Bill Burnett, a former probation officer whose lawyer describes him as “a very capable prosecutor but a simple guy in his philosophy of things,” says that under Texas law, only the defendant himself can ask for a new DNA test. “Once the defendant has been executed, I can do nothing more in the case,” he said in a deposition. He plans to destroy the hair as soon as he’s legally permitted to, closing the book on the only death sentence his small county has ever handed down. Both sides expect a ruling soon.

Jones was convicted of murdering liquor-store owner Allen Hilzendager after driving to the store with paroled murderer Danny Dixon.  Either Jones or Dixon walked into Hilzendager’s store and shot him three times.  The gun belonged to a friend of Dixon’s, Timothy Mark Jordan, who said that Jones confessed to him.  A single hair discovered on the store counter was examined under a microscope—a technique that hasn’t changed much in over 100 years. The crime lab expert said the hair “matched” Jones – a scientifically impossible conclusion. 

The proposed mitochondrial DNA testing could identify the hair with far more accuracy than the previous microscope test, and Time reports that the test results could close the case:

Mitochondrial DNA is exclusionary evidence, which means that if the hair is tested and Jones is not excluded, then he was the shooter. The same goes for Dixon. But if they are both excluded, then the hair belonged to someone who wasn’t involved in the crime at all. That wouldn’t mean Jones didn’t do it, but it would still be troubling to know that the only piece of physical evidence that sent a man to his death was actually completely unrelated to the crime.

Read the full article

here

.

See the timeline of events in Jones’ case

here

.

Read the Innocence Project’s

press release

on seeking DNA testing in Jones’ case.

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