Excerpts from The Innocence Project:
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, seeking DNA testing on the only piece of physical evidence in the case – a hair from the crime scene – that could determine whether the hair matches Claude Jones, who was convicted of murder in 1990 and executed on December 7, 2000.
The hair, which was found on the counter in a liquor store where a man was shot and killed, was central in Jones’ trial and post-conviction appeals. An expert for the state testified at the trial that the hair was consistent with Jones’. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, narrowly upheld Jones’ conviction, in a 3-2 ruling where the majority specifically cited the hair evidence as the necessary “corroboration” to uphold the conviction.
"The judge today recognized that this case raises very serious issues about the integrity of the criminal justice system. We’re grateful that the state will not be able to destroy this evidence before DNA testing can be conducted,” said Nina Morrison, Staff Attorney at the Innocence Project. “We are hopeful that the judge will also see that it’s in everyone’s interests to conduct DNA testing that could resolve serious, lingering questions about this case. DNA testing could show that Claude Jones was guilty, or it could show that the state had no basis for executing him. The public has a right to know whether Claude Jones committed the crime for which he was executed, and today’s ruling moves us one important step closer to learning the truth.”
Why did a Judge have to make this ruling?
“The San Jacinto District Attorney, who was one of the prosecutors during Claude Jones’ trial, told us this week that he will not agree to DNA testing without a court order. We are asking for an emergency order from the court that will mandate testing and prevent officials from destroying this evidence in the meantime,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “The public has a right to know whether Claude Jones actually committed the crime for which he was executed, and whether a serious breakdown in the state’s legal and political process led to a wrongful execution. Public confidence in the criminal justice system is at stake.” [underlining added]
From the same article, we learn that when Claude Jones applied for a stay of execution to then Governor George Bush, Bush's staff did not present him with information on the availability of DNA testing on the hair. That information would have stayed the execution because Bush supports the testing of DNA in order to ensure that a conviction is correct. A few months earlier, Bush stayed an execution so DNA testing could be done. “Any time DNA can be used in its context and can be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it.” Several weeks later, DNA results showed that the man, Ricky McGinn, was guilty and he was executed.
I personally hope that Claude Jones is proven guilty by the new DNA testing, because I don't think our Criminal Justice system can withstand too much more erosion of public confidence.