Texas Judge Orders DNA Test in Case of Man Executed 10 Years Ago
Innocence Project Calls Ruling a Major Step Forward in Determining Whether Texas Executed an Innocent Man
(SAN JACINTO COUNTY, TX; June 15, 2010) – A Texas court has given the green light for advanced DNA testing on a one-inch strand of hair that could prove whether a Texas man was wrongfully executed in 2000. The ruling marks the first time in the state that such a test has been ordered posthumously and the second time in the nation, the Innocence Project said.
In a ruling issued late yesterday, Judge Paul C. Murphy of the District Court in San Jacinto denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case and destroy the evidence and ordered officials to submit the samples to testing.
“We have said all along that this case is about a search for the truth and the public’s right to know. We are very pleased that the court agrees with this objective,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “We hope the District Attorney’s office will now work with us to find mutually agreeable experts to examine and test this evidence within 60 days, or sooner, as ordered by the court.”
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 three years ago asking for a temporary restraining order that would prevent officials from destroying the only piece of physical evidence in the case of Claude Jones. The lawsuit also sought a court order to conduct DNA testing that could determine whether the hair actually comes from Jones, who was convicted of murder in 1990 and executed on December 7, 2000.
Jones was convicted of murdering liquor-store owner Allen Hilzendager after driving to the store with paroled murderer Danny Dixon. The prosecution argued at trial that Jones 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 fragment 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 source of the hair with far more accuracy than the previous microscopic examination. According to the Innocence Project, mitochondrial DNA testing on the hair evidence could establish any of the following:
(1) Jones was guilty;
(2) the hair comes from the charged accomplice Dixon, which would strongly support a claim that Jones was innocent (since eyewitnesses reported only one assailant entering the premises, and Dixon denied being present in the store); or
(3) the hair came from the victim or some other individual, which, by excluding Jones and contradicting the critical evidence against him at trial and relied on by the appeals courts, would mean there was not legally sufficient evidence to convict Jones, much less execute him.
Texas leads the nation in the number of innocent people who were exonerated through DNA testing after being wrongfully convicted. Across the state, 40 people have been exonerated with DNA since 1994. They served a total of 558 years in prison. Nationwide, 254 people have been exonerated through DNA testing, 17 of whom were sentenced to die, according to the Innocence Project.
The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network are represented by Mayer Brown LLP in Houston and New York.
See Judge Murphy’s final ruling here.
See the timeline of events in Jones’ case here.
Read the Innocence Project’s press release on seeking DNA testing in Jones’ case.
Press Contact: Emily Whitfield; 212-364-5346; EWhitfield@innocenceproject.org
Alana Salzberg; 212-364-5983; ASalzberg@innocenceproject.org