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truth hangs by a hair
November 12, 2010 1:34 PM   Subscribe

A DNA test has proven that a man was executed for murder by the State of Texas on the basis of false forensic evidence.

From The Texas Observer:
Claude Jones always claimed that he wasn’t the man who walked into an East Texas liquor store in 1989 and shot the owner. He professed his innocence right up until the moment he was strapped to a gurney in the Texas execution chamber and put to death on December 7, 2000. His murder conviction was based on a single piece of forensic evidence recovered from the crime scene—a strand of hair—that prosecutors claimed belonged to Jones.

But DNA tests completed this week at the request of the
Observer and the New York-based Innocence Project show the hair didn’t belong to Jones after all.
From the Innocence Project press release:
[Texas governor at the time] George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample. The memo from the General Counsel’s office that recommended against the stay did not tell Bush that Jones was seeking a DNA test of the hair. Evidence that the hair “matched” Jones was critical to the prosecution’s case at trial and proved to be the key factor in a narrow 3-2 decision by the Texas Court of Appeals finding there was sufficient corroboration of the accomplice who testified against Jones to uphold the murder conviction.

“I have no doubt that if President Bush had known about the request to do a DNA test of the hair he would have would have issued a 30-day stay in this case and Jones would not have been executed,” said Barry C. Scheck, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.
San Jacinto County district attorney Bill Burnett was an assistant prosecutor on Claude Jones's case and later, as DA, attempted to have the hair strand evidence destroyed rather than allow testing. Under Texas law, he said, the only person who could request a DNA test was the imprisoned inmate. In this case, the inmate was already dead.

Burnett did not live to see the hair tested. He died of pancreatic cancer earlier this year just days before a judge ruled that the evidence had to be handed over to an independent forensics laboratory.

The DNA test results do not prove that Claude Jones was innocent of murder. They do show that Claude Jones' conviction and eventual execution were based on demonstrably false evidence.

Dave Mann of The Texas Observer will be talking about the DNA test news on KUT 90.5 FM from Austin, Texas at 4:44 pm CST. You can listen online.

The Texas Observer's reporting: TIME Magazine's pieces this year: Innocence Project links: Also:
posted by hat (99 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
I knew this would happen someday. My heart breaks for Mr. Jones's family, who have had to live with the fallout from his unjust execution all these years, only to be vindicated a decade too late.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:36 PM on November 12, 2010


My god. I can't read this - it makes my skin crawl. Anyone who had anything to do with this and has any shame should resign from their post and never darken the footsteps of the criminal justice infrastructure again.

Also there should be no more state-sponsored executions.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:40 PM on November 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


One more link for those who are interested. desjardins posted last year about the weak arson analysis used to convict and execute Texas inmate Cameron Todd Willingham.
posted by hat at 1:41 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


.

(Thank you so much for this post.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:41 PM on November 12, 2010


*darken the steps of...*
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:42 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


n Guilty Men
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:43 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


“I have no doubt that if President Bush had known about the request to do a DNA test of the hair he would have would have issued a 30-day stay in this case and Jones would not have been executed,” said Barry C. Scheck, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law.

At first that sounded kind of incredible, but I looked into it and Bush was, at least on paper, in favor of increased use of DNA to provide more certainty in capital cases.

"To the extent that DNA can prove for certain innocence or guilt, I think we need to use DNA." (June 1, 2000)

From the 2005 State of the Union speech: "In America, we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit, so we are dramatically expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction. Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side."

That said, I think the death penalty is only remotely justifiable in one case, which is when a person repeatedly commits murder while in prison and there is no non-cruel-and-unusual way to incarcerate them such that they are no longer a danger to others. Even then it would require higher standards and more thorough procedural safeguards than we have now.
posted by jedicus at 1:45 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cases like this are the primary reason I don't support the death penalty. If I know you've committed certain crimes, I no longer care if you live or die. Certain people really have forfeited their right to be treated as human by committing certain acts, if you ask me.

But if you can never really know for sure whether someone actually committed those acts? Then we should err on the side of caution.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 1:45 PM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


His murder conviction was based on a single piece of forensic evidence recovered from the crime scene—a strand of hair—that prosecutors claimed belonged to Jones.

Was that really all the evidence? If so, if seems unfathomable they'd be able to convict and sentence to murder over such think evidence.
posted by nomadicink at 1:45 PM on November 12, 2010


“I have no doubt that if President Bush had known about the request to do a DNA test of the hair he would have would have issued a 30-day stay in this case and Jones would not have been executed,”

I have, like, a billion doubts about that.
posted by Skot at 1:46 PM on November 12, 2010 [19 favorites]


.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:47 PM on November 12, 2010


George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample.

Man, I can't believe he didn't pick that for one of his Decision Points...
posted by mkultra at 1:48 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not to sound too flippant (right before he sounds flippant), but this is par for the course in Texas. They've been executing the innocent, sometimes with prior foreknowledge, for a long, long time.
posted by Jim Slade at 1:48 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fucking George Bush. I am going to party in the street when he finally dies.
posted by Catblack at 1:48 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Fucking George Bush. I am going to party in the street when he finally dies.

Hold on sec, read this paragraph from the Texax Observer story:
Documents show that attorneys in the governor’s office failed to inform Bush that DNA evidence might exonerate Jones. Bush, a proponent of DNA testing in death penalty cases, had previously halted another execution so that key DNA evidence could be examined. Without knowing that Jones wanted DNA testing, Bush let the execution go forward.
posted by nomadicink at 1:51 PM on November 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


Fucking George Bush. I am going to party in the street when he finally dies.

Did you even read the fucking article?

BUSH was not told that the prisoner requested a DNA test. In the past, when prisoners have requested stays of execution for DNA testing he had granted it.
posted by dobbs at 1:52 PM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]



George Bush, who was awaiting a decision from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the presidential election recount would continue, denied Jones’ request for a 30 day stay of execution to do DNA test on the hair sample.


Can't wait to count votes, can't wait to execute. Dude is just impatient.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by sacrifix at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2010


But if you can never really know for sure whether someone actually committed those acts? Then we should err on the side of caution.

And since we're dealing with humans, and humans lie, make mistakes and get fooled, it's impossible to ever know for sure. So we shouldn't execute anyone, ever, on the off chance that in some small way, an error can be compensated for.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:53 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Was that really all the evidence? If so, if seems unfathomable they'd be able to convict and sentence to murder over such thin evidence.

By my reading that was the only forensic evidence (e.g., fingerprints, DNA). There may well have been (notoriously unreliable) eyewitness testimony, circumstantial evidence (e.g. the defendant was in the area at the time), etc.
posted by jedicus at 1:54 PM on November 12, 2010


The true tragedy here is that hair comparison pseudo-science is still admissible as evidence in these sort of cases.
posted by clvrmnky at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Claude Jones was no saint. Born in Houston in 1940, he was arrested numerous times and spent three stints in prison on robbery, assault and theft charges. While serving an eight-year sentence in a Kansas prison, Jones allegedly doused another inmate with lighter fluid and set him on fire.

But Jones wasn’t executed for his previous crimes. He was put to death for what allegedly happened on the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1989.

Jones and an accomplice named Kerry Daniel Dixon pulled into Zell’s liquor store in the East Texas town of Point Blank, about 80 miles northeast of Houston. They had a .357 magnum revolver given to them by a third man, Timothy Jordan.

Either Jones or Dixon remained in the pickup truck, while the other went inside and shot the store’s owner, 44-year-old Allen Hilzendager, three times and made off with several hundred dollars from the cash register.

The question is, which of them committed the shooting? Witnesses who saw the crime from across the street couldn’t positively identify which man they saw leave the store. The third accomplice, Timothy Jordan, would testify that Jones confessed to the shooting. (Jordan later recanted his testimony, claiming police told him what to say in exchange for a lesser charge. Jordan, Dixon and Jones had committed a string of robberies, though the liquor store heist was the only one that involved murder. Jordan was sent to prison for 10 years. Dixon was given a 60-year sentence.)


It's not right under any circumstances to execute an innocent man, and I'm against capital punishment. As a decent and civil society we shouldn't be executing anyone.

I also don't feel bad that this guy is dead, state executed or otherwise. There is no question of whether Jones was there the day of the robbery; the question was if he was the shooter. Let's say he was merely the accomplice in an armed robbery and murder. Also a robber beforehand, and set a man on fire.

I feel worse for the liquor store owner who was murdered for x hundred dollars in 1989.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:55 PM on November 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


The question is, which of them committed the shooting? Once it was established that Jones and Kerry Daniel Dixon were both participants in an armed robbery, (one in the store one in the getaway car) would not both be guilty of murder?
On preview, what Mister Fabulous said.
posted by acro at 1:56 PM on November 12, 2010


FRONTLINE just did a show aboit Todd Willingham. In the process of outputting the online version and doing grabs, I'm pretty much forced to see every episode whether I want to or not. I would have preferred to remain ignorant of the details of the Willingham case. It infuriates and depresses me.

Sometimes when there are particularly heinous local cases, my id wishes that my state had a death penalty. Then I see travesties like these cases and I remember one of the reasons that I am very against executing people.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:58 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yes but he didn't die in vain.
His execution was just the deterrent we needed to stop murder outright in the state of Texas and, having achieved just that...well....I say it was worth it.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:05 PM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Did you even read the fucking article?

BUSH was not told that the prisoner requested a DNA test. In the past, when prisoners have requested stays of execution for DNA testing he had granted it.

There are men and women of conscience everywhere who would have granted a stay because of the simple fact that capitol punishment is wrong and / or executions can happen to the innocent due to simple human error and fallibility.

Whether or not Bush knew anything about the case does not absolve him of the responsibility he took on in voluntarily allowing himself to be an executioner of sorts. A "decider," I guess he woild call it. And then getting that decision wrong.

Unlike many people in many awful and harrowing circumstances, Bush really did have a choice.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 2:05 PM on November 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


(Jordan later recanted his testimony, claiming police told him what to say in exchange for a lesser charge. Jordan, Dixon and Jones had committed a string of robberies, though the liquor store heist was the only one that involved murder. Jordan was sent to prison for 10 years. Dixon was given a 60-year sentence.)

Well, a slightly off-topic axe to grind, but the disparities in sentencing here for three people involved in the same crime highlights why I'm opposed to the death penalty, even for people who are guilty as sin. The system arbitrarily makes death penalty cases out of a tiny minority of homicides.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:06 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Once it was established that Jones and Kerry Daniel Dixon were both participants in an armed robbery, (one in the store one in the getaway car) would not both be guilty of murder?

Murder, yes, under the so-called "felony murder rule". Capital murder, no. As far as I can tell, even in Texas they don't execute you for murder unless you actually kill someone.
posted by The Bellman at 2:09 PM on November 12, 2010


In a nearby thread, someone rhetorically asked what we would be our desired outcome for a war crimes conviction against George W. Bush? Hanging? Life imprisonment?

It is because of things like this that I now say: life imprisonment.

No human institution can ever be trusted with that much power.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:13 PM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


So basically the defense of Bush is that the cliff notes version of the appeal he was given to skim through didn't have all the facts, so the probably-innocent blood of that man whose life he signed away surely isn't on his hands?
posted by crayz at 2:22 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let's look at Bush's overall position and actions on this issue in the most positive light possible. Let's say the law in that state is clear and it does seem like Bush took proactive action to improve the standards of evidence used. Let's assume Bush carefully deliberated every one of these cases, and was only let down in this case by the ineptitude of his subordinates.

In a way, that's an even stronger argument against capital punishment.

You can have good intentions, make improvements to the system of justice ... and yet still make horrible, gut wrenching mistakes with absolutely no possibility of reversal or meaningful remedy.
posted by striatic at 2:25 PM on November 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


BUSH was not told that the prisoner requested a DNA test. In the past, when prisoners have requested stays of execution for DNA testing he had granted it.

Okay. Then the lackey that failed to convey this extremely vital thing to Gov. Bush should be charged with negligent manslaughter.
posted by sourwookie at 2:27 PM on November 12, 2010


And since we're dealing with humans, and humans lie, make mistakes and get fooled, it's impossible to ever know for sure. So we shouldn't execute anyone, ever, on the off chance that in some small way, an error can be compensated for.
posted by Cool Papa Bell

You've got me sold, CPB. I'm of the mind that 'people' aught to murder 'people' not governments. But then I guess I'm just kind of old fashioned. *blushes and twirls parasol*
posted by nola at 2:31 PM on November 12, 2010


So what is that 2 people now that Texas has murdered who were innocent ( as far as evidence provided proves) ?
posted by Max Power at 2:31 PM on November 12, 2010


This sucks and all, but this guy was involved in a string of armed robberies, any one of which could have very easily ended in death. It's not like we're talking about a case of mistaken identity. I don't think this is much of an argument against the Death Penalty.

I'm against it, but mostly because it's applied so arbitrarily and unfairly.
posted by empath at 2:32 PM on November 12, 2010


The fact that innocent people have been and will continue to be killed by the state is one reason that capital punishment is a bad idea. But it is not the main reason.

The purpose of punishment in a modern society should be to prevent crime and to discourage crime. In neither of these things is the death penalty superior to life in maximum security prison. It is irreversable when errors occur, and they do. It costs more money. It cuts off the study of the criminal and the evidence they can provide. For the guilty, it is often a more desirable punishment than imprisonment. (Consider that so many prisoners attempt suicide, a comparatively painful death, to escape jail.) It is purely motivated by revenge. In reality, it does not even provide closure to the victims. None of these things is the main reason that capital punishment is a bad idea.

The main reason is that the killing of someone who is in controlled custody and poses no immediate threat is morally equivalent to murder.

If we are to start down the road of justifying the non-defensive and pre-meditated killing of of a prisoner because they have done something bad and bad people deserve bad things, we must also begin to say that murder by private citizens is sometimes acceptable. The courts couldn't give you justice, so of course you had to turn to vigilantism. The man was asking for it, the way he treated your family. The woman was doing something your religion defines as evil, so of course you were justified.

It is a necessary fiction that we do not regard every executive leader who has permitted an execution to be a murderer. But they are. This is not something society is capable of acknowledging any time soon, and I am thankful that organizations like the Innocence Project are able to chip away pragmatically at the other reasons to oppose capital punishment, like the inevitable, irreversible, unnecessary slaying of innocents by our tax dollars.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:33 PM on November 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Based only on a reading of the article, I suggest this is not a good case on which to base political activity or anti-death penalty advocacy.
posted by Xoebe at 2:33 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mister Fabulous: I also don't feel bad that this guy is dead, state executed or otherwise.

what

Senor Cardgage: His execution was just the deterrent we needed to stop murder outright in the state of Texas and, having achieved just that...well....I say it was worth it.

what
posted by mkultra at 2:36 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tangentially related ...

I watched this compelling 'PBS Frontline' episode last night: The Confessions.
"Eight men charged. Five confessions. But only one DNA match. Why would four innocent men confess to a brutal crime they didn't commit?

In The Confessions, FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel (Innocence Lost, An Ordinary Crime) investigates the conviction of four men -- current and former sailors in the U.S. Navy -- for the rape and murder of a Norfolk, Va., woman in 1997. In the first television interviews with the 'Norfolk Four' since their release, Bikel learns of some of the high-pressure police interrogation techniques -- the threat of the death penalty, sleep deprivation, intimidation -- that led each of the men to confess, despite the lack of any evidence linking them to the crime."
posted by ericb at 2:36 PM on November 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm of the mind that 'people' aught to murder 'people' not governments. But then I guess I'm just kind of old fashioned. *blushes and twirls parasol*

Governments aren't made up of people? I guess that explains the DMV.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:36 PM on November 12, 2010


I think in terms of culpability, the trial jury, the judge, the lawyers who withheld information from the governor, and the good citizens of Texas are all more responsible than Bush for this travesty.
The people of Texas want capital punishment. Until Texans change their minds about that in great numbers, innocent people will continue to be executed.
posted by rocket88 at 2:38 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I knew this would happen someday.
Death Penalty: The Innocence List -- "Average number of years between being sentenced to death and exoneration: 9.8 years. Number of cases in which DNA played a substantial factor in establishing innocence: 17."



posted by ericb at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is something seriously wrong with the world when the book I just finished predicted this real life event (including that it would be in Texas.) It isn't the first time this author's fiction has tracked reality.
posted by bearwife at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2010


If that guy didn't commit any crimes, he wouldn't have been accidentally killed by the government. If he didn't hang out with the wrong crowd, he wouldn't have been the accomplice for this crime. If he worked hard and didn't get down on his luck, he wouldn't have resorted to robbery. If he lived a good clean life, he wouldn't be in that situation.

You know what that is? Victim blaming. You might not like the victim very much, but he is the victim of an unjustified execution. And you're blaming him for it. Our psychological defense mechanism here is to dehumanize this guy and apply the just-world fallacy as hard as we possibly can so we believe this wasn't state-sponsored murder and that we couldn't find ourselves, pleading our innocence to our last breath, strapped to that gurney facing death at the hands of the government.
posted by 0xFCAF at 2:43 PM on November 12, 2010 [23 favorites]


Governments aren't made up of people? I guess that explains the DMV.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:36 PM

Governments are made up of people but they also institutions, cold calculating institutions that have a job to do regardless of the opinions of the individuals working in them. I like institutions that are liberal in the handling of law and order. If you think the guy that raped and killed your little girl should die fine that's between you and him I guess. If you really think 'bad apples' should die for their crimes don't ask the state to do your dirty work for you. But then again I'm as crazy as a shit house mouse.
posted by nola at 2:48 PM on November 12, 2010


Okay. Then the lackey that failed to convey this extremely vital thing to Gov. Bush should be charged with negligent manslaughter.

Man, us liberals these days are sounding about as dumb as when Republicans used to blame 100% of all bad things on Bill Clinton.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:51 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wasn't blaming it on Bush. I was suggesting we hold whoever in the prosecutors office whose job it was to notify Bush responsible. Don't you feel someone should be held culpable? It's not like we're talking about an unfair speeding ticket. Someone died here.
posted by sourwookie at 3:04 PM on November 12, 2010


It's not like we're talking about a case of mistaken identity. I don't think this is much of an argument against the Death Penalty.

Executed for a crime one didn't commit? What could be wrong with that?
posted by rtha at 3:05 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am missing your point, ericb? I think this is the first time that forensic DNA testing has shown definitively that someone executed on that basis was executed wrongly. As you point out, people have been pardoned from Death Row before now, but this is (as far as I know) the first incontrovertible "Someone was executed on provably false DNA evidence" case.

So, yeah, the reason I knew this would happen someday was because people have been freed from Death Row, but somehow that didn't stop pro-capital punishment people from saying "Well, nobody's actually been executed yet on the basis of provably false DNA evidence."

Until now.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:06 PM on November 12, 2010


Somebody died because of the failure of the justice system, not because of George W. Bush not flying in and making it all better.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:06 PM on November 12, 2010


This sucks and all, but this guy was involved in a string of armed robberies, any one of which could have very easily ended in death.

But they didn't. And people don't get the death penalty for armed robbery that doesn't result in death.

He was executed on the basis of false evidence. How does the fact that he was apparently justly convicted of other crimes change the significance of that?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:08 PM on November 12, 2010


Let me try again:

George Bush was apparently unaware and therefore incapable of granting a stay. A stay was requested. It was someone's job to make Bush aware, but they didn't. While I agree that the justice system failed everybody, I consider that particular link in the chain worth investigating, and I certainly think a criminal negligence charge could be appropriate.
posted by sourwookie at 3:11 PM on November 12, 2010


Lots of thoughtful comments here, but I wanted to add that this post was exceptionally thorough and put together admirably well.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Mistrust those in whom the instinct to punish is strong."
-Friedrich Nietzche

Also
From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years, I have endeavored - indeed, I have struggled - along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor. 1 Rather than continue to coddle the Court's delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies.

The basic question - does the system accurately and consistently determine which defendants "deserve" to die? - cannot be answered in the affirmative. It is not simply that this Court has allowed vague aggravating circumstances to be employed... The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.
Justice Harry Blackmun
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Mister Fabulous: I also don't feel bad that this guy is dead, state executed or otherwise.

what


Thank you for misconstruing my statement. I already had said I am against capital punishment. This individual was convicted of robbery and assault years before, very likely set another human on fire while in prison, and then was to a large degree involved in an armed robbery and murder that ultimately led to his state-sponsored execution.

I'm not saying it's right that he was executed based on dodgy evidence that he was explicitly the shooter while the other likely shooter gets 60 years and no execution. It isn't right that the official memo given to Bush had crucial details about a possible DNA test left out. It isn't right that the prosecution continually used testimony by the third accomplice that he later recanted. The state of Texas should not have carried out yet another one of their hundreds of executions.

I am against executions. There are several cases where people have been on death row and let off later as they were proven innocent. There will probably be more executions that will occur where the state will kill another innocent individual. Sitting on death row becomes Napoleonic in that you are now guilty and have to prove yourself innocent. It's not right at all.

But all of that doesn't change the fact that he was a dangerous individual who repeatedly committed crime in and out of prison. Not minor or petty crime: assault, robbery, armed robbery, attempted murder, and, minimally, accomplice to a murder. I don't believe in principle he should have been executed. But my gut feeling remains that this person, based on his actions, did not deserve to be among any population.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:14 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did you even read the fucking article?

BUSH was not told that the prisoner requested a DNA test. In the past, when prisoners have requested stays of execution for DNA testing he had granted it.


i think the issue is more that, as with much of the crap he has done, bush never allows for the possibility that there might be something he does not know, and the mixture of overconfidence and incuriosity has fucked a whole lotta people.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 3:15 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also there should be no more state-sponsored executions.

That was my initial reaction. Surely now Texas will declare a moratorium on executions until they can investigate this systemic failure and how it might affect other prisoners sentenced to death.

Surely.

His execution was just the deterrent we needed to stop murder outright in the state of Texas and, having achieved just that...well....I say it was worth it.

Did I miss something? The article mentions Cameron Todd Willingham. Will Jones' case do more?
posted by mrgrimm at 3:19 PM on November 12, 2010


Then the lackey that failed to convey this extremely vital thing to Gov. Bush should be charged with negligent manslaughter.

I would guess it was intentional, not negligent. And probably at the request of Bush's handlers. It was the wrong time for a stay. They made sure a stay didn't happen.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


How does the fact that he was apparently justly convicted of other crimes change the significance of that?

Because, in a lot of peoples minds, he still deserved. Executing him for this is just a technicality in their minds.

In order for this to matter to most people, an innocent person with a crime free record needs to be executed. Then you'll see an uproar.
posted by nomadicink at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2010


His execution was just the deterrent we needed to stop murder outright in the state of Texas and, having achieved just that...well....I say it was worth it.

Did I miss something?


Yes, the sarcasm.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:24 PM on November 12, 2010


In order for this to matter to most people, an innocent person with a crime free record needs to be executed. Then you'll see an uproar.

And it probably needs to be a straight, white, upper class, christian male.

Oh right, those kinds of people never get executed.
posted by empath at 3:26 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


One more link for those who are interested. desjardins posted last year about the weak arson analysis used to convict and execute Texas inmate Cameron Todd Willingham.

Frontline: Death by Fire
posted by homunculus at 3:28 PM on November 12, 2010


No, with the muslim and latino menace threatening our cherished freedoms and way of life, blacks are alright, so yeah, it kinds sucks when one of them is wrongly accused of something. Usually.
posted by nomadicink at 3:28 PM on November 12, 2010


Bush on the death penalty:

While driving back from the speech later that day, Bush mentions Karla Faye Tucker, a double murderer who was executed in Texas last year. In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. 'Did you meet with any of them?' I ask.

Bush whips around and stares at me. 'No, I didn't meet with any of them,' he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. 'I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with , though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' 'What was her answer?' I wonder.

'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, 'don't kill me.'

I must look shocked -- ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel, even for someone as militantly anticrime as Bush -- because he immediately stops smirking.

'It's tough stuff,' Bush says, suddenly somber, 'but my job is to enforce the law.' As it turns out, the Larry King-Karla Faye Tucker exchange Bush recounted never took place, at least not on television. During her interview with King, however, Tucker did imply that Bush was succumbing to election-year pressure from pro-death penalty voters. Apparently Bush never forgot it. He has a long memory for slights."
-- Tucker Carlson
posted by empath at 3:29 PM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


It was the wrong time for a stay.

Sorry, strike that. I totally misread while skimming. I thought this was right before the election ...

Yes, the sarcasm.

See, all you hamburger-haters. Some people need it.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:42 PM on November 12, 2010


Jones was 60 years old when he was executed on December 7, 2000—the last man put to death by then-Gov. Bush.

I think, considering the Iraq war, that Bush put others to death as well, at least some of whom were innocent.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:47 PM on November 12, 2010


It can't be said often enough: The Texas justice system is nothing more or less than an organized murder ring. From Erroll Morris' The Thin Blue Line:

"Prosecutors in Dallas have said for years - any prosecutor can convict a guilty man. It takes a great prosecutor to convict an innocent man. "

posted by steambadger at 3:50 PM on November 12, 2010


Mister Fabulous writes "But all of that doesn't change the fact that he was a dangerous individual who repeatedly committed crime in and out of prison. Not minor or petty crime: assault, robbery, armed robbery, attempted murder, and, minimally, accomplice to a murder. I don't believe in principle he should have been executed. But my gut feeling remains that this person, based on his actions, did not deserve to be among any population."

Be that as it may aren't you outraged by the grievous miscarriage of justice? Or are such life and death errors only a problem when they directly harm the right people.
posted by Mitheral at 3:51 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've said it before and I'll say it again:

I'm against the death penalty because it far too terrible to the innocent, and far too merciful to the guilty.
posted by notsnot at 3:59 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't believe in principle he should have been executed. But my gut feeling remains that this person, based on his actions, did not deserve to be among any population.

Your "gut feeling" is the primary argument, in principle, for capital punishment.
posted by mkultra at 4:06 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Surely this…
posted by klangklangston at 4:08 PM on November 12, 2010


George Bush was apparently unaware and therefore incapable of granting a stay. A stay was requested. It was someone's job to make Bush aware, but they didn't.

This implies that Governor Bush did not do his homework around a critical decision involving the life and death of a person at the hands of the state – wasn't inquisitive and made no personal effort to verify the details.

I can certainly see how it would thus be appropriate to blame this on his assistant.
posted by zippy at 4:10 PM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


At best this is perjury, at worst manslaughter. Everyone needs to be held to the same level of accountability.

Lock the bastards up
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 4:14 PM on November 12, 2010


As it's been proven time and again that the death penalty is subject to abuse it should be off the table, for that reason alone; if it cannot be administered with 100% certainty it should not exist.

The worst criminals, the ones we know are guilty of their crimes (such as say, Ted Bundy), could just as easily rot in 23-hour lockdown in the SHU until they die of natural causes.
posted by bwg at 4:17 PM on November 12, 2010


As a native Texan, I know this is the part where my country state really needs to be put right, and yet I have no idea what an individual can do to fix the problem with capital punishment in my state.

One of the big reasons that I was appalled that my neighbors and fellow Texans reelected Rick Perry was because of the way he replaced the chair and two members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission last October to sweep the Cameron Todd Willingham case under the rug. The commission had released a report in August 2009 saying that the evidence for arson in the Willingham case was fatally flawed. Two days before the commission was due to meet in October, Perry replaced the chair with a supporter who pushed back any meeting on the case into this year (and they pushed it back until this summer, when the news was essentially buried).

We also have had the whole Sharon Keller/Michael Richard business, where one of the judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals wouldn't stay after 5 PM to be sure a stay of execution was properly filed. Keller was rebuked for her behavior by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, but she appealed and the rebuke has since been overturned (I think the final appeals were resolved last month in Keller's favor).

That's not even talking about the guy whose lawyer slept through his capital case, or any of the other clearly incompetent defenses against capital crimes where various courts of appeal have refused to do anything to protect defendants railroaded through the capital punishment machinery. And yet, when it comes time to do something about it, like voting the governor out, or getting rid of Keller or any of the judges who think a sleeping attorney or otherwise incompetent defense isn't a valid reason to appeal, nothing every happens.

I'm glad I'm an atheist so I don't have to ponder what a just God would do to the people whose hands run the levers that keep the machinery running and pull the lever to vote for people who keep it oiled.
posted by immlass at 4:30 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


His execution was just the deterrent we needed to stop murder outright in the state of Texas and, having achieved just that...well....I say it was worth it.

Oh, hello, straw man, nice to meet you.
posted by John Cohen at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2010


Be that as it may aren't you outraged by the grievous miscarriage of justice? Or are such life and death errors only a problem when they directly harm the right people.

I don't know if I say I feel "outrage" but I am definitely disappointed that our Texas' system can have so many checkpoints and they all failed. Consider how many people had to make even the smallest error in judgement to get this person executed, and that any one could have stopped or delayed it. Many people are pissed at Bush, but he is literally one of what is realistically hundreds that have at least a small hand in this. Police including detectives and investigators, prosecution, defense, lab technicians, jury, judge, multiple appellate court judges, corrections officials, aides to the governor, Bush and executioners all share blame.

Your "gut feeling" is the primary argument, in principle, for capital punishment.

I'm well aware of that. Some people are able to look past it and see the death penalty as an actual bad thing to have in existence. Others can't.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:41 PM on November 12, 2010


"Okay. Then the lackey that failed to convey this extremely vital thing to Gov. Bush should be charged with negligent manslaughter."

Be that as it may aren't you outraged by the grievous miscarriage of justice? Or are such life and death errors only a problem when they directly harm the right people.


The DNA test results do not exonerate Jones. Let's not presume Texas executed an innocent man, there's no evidence to back up that assumption. The fact that he was a violent career criminal pretty much guarantees that this case will change nothing.
posted by MikeMc at 4:45 PM on November 12, 2010


The DNA test results do not exonerate Jones.

They void his trial and conviction, though, as the DNA "evidence" was the cornerstone of that.

Yes, maybe Jones was the guy who killed that guy. The state didn't prove its case, though, except by flat-out lying.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:48 PM on November 12, 2010


I mean, all the "oh well maybe he did it because he was a criminal" shit is irrelevant--they executed someone based on false evidence, which has now been proven false.

That's not how the justice system is supposed to work. And what now? They can't give him his life back so he can have a new trial, a fair one this time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:50 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This implies that Governor Bush did not do his homework around a critical decision involving the life and death of a person at the hands of the state – wasn't inquisitive and made no personal effort to verify the details.

Dammit, he should have done the DNA tests himself!
posted by smackfu at 5:00 PM on November 12, 2010


Can I add a little behind-the-scenes info to this story, just to demonstrate its full strength?

My first job out of college was working for the Observer. I was there for several years. The Observer has been around since 1954 -- back when there was an actual, liberal Democratic Party in Texas -- and has been producing investigative journalism like this ever since. The budget has always been thinner than a shoestring. When I worked there (maybe I shouldn't say this, but I will), the paper almost went under several times. The newsstand price of the paper was $1.75. Subscriptions were $32 a year. We were barely kept afloat by the lifetime subscriptions of people who missed Ralph Yarbrough and Jake Pickle and others from the era of Yellow Dog Democrats. And ~15 years ago, those folks were already dying off. We did twice-annual fundraisers, and those helped us make it from issue to issue. And life preservers were thrown to us on an almost-quarterly basis by an insurance exec from Waco (whose business practices were probably pretty questionable, but whose politics were surprisingly lefty) and Molly Ivins. I personally walked across downtown Austin, carrying very large donation checks from Molly Ivins, made out to the Observer, on several occasions.

I don't know if she left the foundation money when she died. (The paper is nonprofit, operated by a 501(c)3. Advertising has always been very sparse and never lucrative.) I wouldn't be surprised if she did. But I know it's still a small operation for which making a profit has never even been a peripheral goal.

My point is: A small, nonprofit, perennially broke-ass magazine engaged in a three-year court battle over a single hair, just to prove that Texas' system of capital punishment needs serious examination. They've been shining light on this stuff for over 55 years, and they're pretty much alone in doing it. (With the possible exception of Texas Monthly, whose motivations are entirely different [and many of whose editorial staff have been Observer alums].)

If you don't live in Texas, or aren't involved in Texas politics, many of their articles probably aren't of interest to you and there's no real reason why you'd subscribe. But they do take (tax-deductible) donations. I can tell you from experience that it's donations from people like Metafilter readers -- people who don't regularly read the paper, but who happen across an Observer story that makes them wonder why no one else is covering this stuff -- that allow them to keep doing what they do. If this story made you go "whoa," please consider supporting them so that they do continue.

** I do not currently know anyone who works there, and I haven't known anyone who works there for at least a decade. I don't normally shill here. But I know the organization. I know that -- case in point -- it does work that needs doing. And I know that finding the resources for it to do that work has always, always been a struggle. And I want y'all to know that too.
posted by mudpuppie at 5:13 PM on November 12, 2010 [32 favorites]


When deciding whether or not to grant clemency in executions, then-governor Bush spent about half-an-hour reviewing per execution going over a case summary prepared by his his legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales. The summaries were three to seven pages long; typically about a third of the reports were devoted to the details of the crime. "Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence." The Texas Clemency Memos.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:44 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just to make sure we have all the facts here, I do think we should look at what, according to Texas Execution Information, was the actual case they felt they had against Carl Jones, so that we have more than just the once source going in:

In November 1989, Jones entered Zell's liquor store in Point Blank and asked the owner, Allen Hilzendager, to retrieve a bottle for him. As Hilzendager turned to get the bottle, Jones shot him three times with a .357 Magnum revolver. Jones took $900 from the cash register and fled in a getaway vehicle waiting outside. Waiting in the car were Jones' two accomplices, Kerry Daniel Dixon Jr. and Timothy Mark Jordan.

Three days later, the trio robbed a bank in Humble, Texas, obtaining $14,000 in loot. They then went on a weekend trip to Las Vegas. About three weeks after the liquor store robbery, Jones was arrested in Florida for bank robbery.

Jones, who also used the aliases Carl Roy Davis, Butch Jones, and Douglas Ray Starke, had eleven prior convictions in Texas for crimes including murder, armed robbery, assault, and burglary. He served 6 years of a 9-year prison sentence from 1959 to 1963 and three years of a 5-year sentence from 1963 to 1965. In 1976, he was convicted of murder, robbery, and assault in Kansas and received a life sentence. While in Kansas prison, Jones killed another inmate. He was paroled in 1984.

The evidence at Jones' trial was conclusive. A number of witnesses placed Jones at the scene of the crime, including Leon Goodson, who heard the shots and watched Jones leave the liquor store. A strand of Jones' hair was found at the murder scene. Also, Timothy Jordan testified against his partners in crime. Jones was convicted of capital murder and received the death sentence. Dixon was convicted of murder and received a 60-year prison term. Jordan received a 10-year prison term.


Now, none of what I posted above matters except that I felt we should have all the viewpoints here before we all say that a gross miscarriage of justice occurred.

Which, in my opinion, it DID.

Because even if Jones was a convicted murderer, he still deserves the presumption of innocence in this case until and unless he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And the hair was used, at least in part, to procure that ruling in the jury's mind. And that hair was the only forensic evidence against him.

Maybe he did it. Maybe the jury would have found Jones guilty without the hair. But the fact remains that the forensic evidence against him was, basically, falsified, and had the jury known that going in (which they would have done had the DNA been analyzed), who can say what the verdict would have been? That one hair might have been enough to create that reasonable doubt.
posted by misha at 6:06 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


clvrmnky wrote: "The true tragedy here is that hair comparison pseudo-science is still admissible as evidence in these sort of cases."

The problem isn't that it's admissible, the problem is that it's described as being a reliable test. AFAIK, these comparisons are correct more often than not. The problem is that the jury is not told that it's not the hard evidence they think it is.

It's like how juries put a lot of weight behind eyewitness testimony despite it being very unreliable.

Each should be a small part of a case, not the entire case against the accused.
posted by wierdo at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2010


damn







.
posted by liza at 6:38 PM on November 12, 2010


This sucks and all, but this guy was involved in a string of armed robberies, any one of which could have very easily ended in death. It's not like we're talking about a case of mistaken identity. I don't think this is much of an argument against the Death Penalty.

Whether you have sympathy for the people involved shouldn't have anything to do with whether or not justice should have been served. Everyone is supposed to be equal under the law. A two-bit criminal like this isn't going to garner much sympathy from everyone, which is why it's so important that the system can't just end his life for something he didn't do.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:11 PM on November 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


can mudpuppie's comment please be sidebarred?
posted by palomar at 8:09 PM on November 12, 2010


A two-bit criminal like this isn't going to garner much sympathy from everyone, which is why it's so important that the system can't just end his life for something he didn't do.

Careful. We don't know that he didn't do it. But yes, the system shouldn't have been able to end his life for something which he was never conclusively proven to have done.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:51 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The idea that the only good argument against the death penalty is the execution of a pure and shining angel mistaken for a n'er do well is so frustrating.

If the system isn't protecting the least-sympathetic from execution on unfair grounds, it's not working. Period.
posted by desuetude at 10:32 PM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is not clear how much weight the jury would have given the forensic evidence given this: Robertson compared the hair with samples taken from 15 people who entered the store the day of the murder. He testified at trial that he believed the hair matched Jones. But he conceded, “Technology has not advanced where we can tell you that this hair came from that person,” he told the jury, according to court records. “Can’t be done.”

They had to be aware that the expert testimony was an educated guess not a scientific certainty. The bit about him setting a fellow inmate on fire is the biggest problem I have with not having a death penalty. I get that it is often applied unequally and unfairly, but what do we do with people who are a threat to other inmates and guards when they are imprisoned? I can think of a few infamous murderers who have killed or seriously maimed others while serving life sentences.
posted by Tashtego at 11:01 PM on November 12, 2010


I get that it is often applied unequally and unfairly, but what do we do with people who are a threat to other inmates and guards when they are imprisoned?

Your solution is "kill them?"
posted by desuetude at 11:15 PM on November 12, 2010


I suppose a lifetime of physical restraints, sedation, and separation from human contact would work just as well as killing a person in preventing them from hurting someone else, but is it more humane. Some people, a minority even among murderers, are extremely prone to violence. I don't have a solution about what to do with them, but they are always a threat to those around them.
posted by Tashtego at 11:31 PM on November 12, 2010


I was recently reading the (somewhat old) article by David Grann about The Brand (or basically, the Aryan Brotherhood) in prison (abstract), and it definitely shook my idea that "killing is always wrong" and turned me more toward the idea that execution might probably be the very best thing in some extreme situations... much as how we might almost unanimously agree that the idea of the assassination of Hitler would probably have been a good thing, despite the (likely) possibility that Hitler might have actually been stymied by being in prison most of his life, while these guys essentially regard it as an opportunity to be exploited.

This has been only one of the many things to make me wonder what my core belief really is. Do I really believe that killing is always wrong? Apparently, no. Some of the Aryan Brotherhood top dudes murdered repeatedly in prison for reasons that had nothing to do with self-defense, and made murder (or attempted murder) a rite of passage for new members and a common coin of gang esteem, as well as actually taking over effective control of some prisons, and spreading their controlling influence across the penal system throughout the country, and even on the outside — despite (most/many of) the worst offenders and top organizers eventually being placed in the most drastically locked-down and socially isolated depths of the most hidden cells of the most high-security prisons in the U.S.

I really think it would have been better to execute these guys in the same way that I wouldn't flinch at the idea of the assassination of the world's most brutal and bloody dictators and murderous power wielders throughout history. So. Evidently, I'm not really that locked in to the idea that capital punishment is always wrong, though I feel that it usually is.

... which kind of puts me in an ideological no-man's-land, though I suspect I'm not as alone as I feel when reading most public discourse about this incredibly complicated and freighted issue.
posted by taz at 5:23 AM on November 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I suppose a lifetime of physical restraints, sedation, and separation from human contact would work just as well as killing a person in preventing them from hurting someone else, but is it more humane.

I oppose this as well, but I consider it a separate issue from the criteria by which citizens can be legally killed by the government.
posted by desuetude at 9:37 AM on November 13, 2010


While rationalizations for capital punishment often invoke the worst of the worst, the unfortunate fact is that's not an accurate assessment of who actually gets a death sentence in our current environment. The worst of the worst often get life without parole or less with competent counsel, while a small number of homicide suspects with the bad luck of incompetent counsel along with judicial or prosecutor animus arbitrarily get death sentences.

The legal system has generally failed to create a solution to deal with the problem of pervasive bias and malpractice in deciding who should get the death penalty.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:22 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Careful. We don't know that he didn't do it.

So we presume that he didn't until the government proves that he did. They didn't.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:15 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


So we presume that he didn't until the government proves that he did. They didn't.

No. The justice system must presume so, but I'm under no such burden.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:41 PM on November 15, 2010


Feh, yet another dirtbag gets put out of his misery. No new news here...
posted by wkearney99 at 8:31 PM on November 19, 2010


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