Timeline of Events in the Case of Claude Jones
October 1989 - Terry Hardin purchases a .357 revolver from WalMart for her boyfriend, Timothy Mark Jordan, who was on parole and could not purchase a gun.
November 1989 - Jordan and Hardin host visitors Claude Howard Jones and Kerry Dixon at a deer camp owned by Hardin’s parents.
November 1989 - Allen Hilzendager is shot to death while working at a liquor store in San Jacinto County, Texas. Police officers arrive at the liquor store and collect crime scene evidence, including several hairs from the counter near the cash register and one from the cash drawer itself.
November 1989 - Jordan and Dixon are arrested for the murder after eyewitnesses place Dixon’s beige Ford truck at the liquor store at the time of the murder.
December 1989 - Jones is arrested.
August 1990 - The prosecution alleges that Jones robbed the store and shot the victim with Jordan’s gun while Dixon waited in the car in the parking lot. Jordan testifies that Jones confessed to the murder several times. Jones, who has a lengthy criminal record, does not testify. Stephen Robertson, a chemist at the Texas Department of Public Safety, testifies that a hair fragment found on the counter of the liquor store could have belonged to Jones but not to Dixon, the victim, or any of the other 12 individuals whose samples were collected. Jordan’s sample was not collected.
August 1990 - Jones is convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die. Dixon is convicted of capital murder and given a 60-year sentence. (Jordan was charged with capital murder and with a separate robbery in another county, but plea bargained both charges down to a 10-year sentence for a lesser offense.)
December 1994 - A divided Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, in a 3-2 decision, upholds Jones’s conviction and death sentence. In a strongly worded dissent, two judges conclude that the evidence against Jones is not sufficient to justify his conviction for murder. The majority opinion cites the hair as critical physical evidence tying Jones to the crime.
December 2000 - State officials contemplate mitochondrial DNA testing on a hair fragment found at the crime scene and alleged to be Jones’, but testing is never performed. The possibility of DNA testing is omitted from material prepared by state officials for then-Governor George Bush to decide whether to grant Jones’ request for a temporary stay of execution. (Months earlier, Bush ordered a stay of execution in another death row case so DNA testing could be conducted.)
December 2000 - Claude Howard Jones is executed by the State of Texas.
May 2004 - Timothy Jordan signs an affidavit recanting his testimony that Jones told him he committed the murder. In the affidavit, he states that everything he reported at trial about the robbery and killing he learned from Dixon, not from Jones. He also states that he testified against Jones in an attempt to receive a reduced sentence in this case and an unrelated robbery.
August 2007 - Mayer Brown LLP, on behalf of The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network, asks the San Jacinto County District Attorney’s office and local officials to consent to DNA testing and preserve the evidence while considering the request.
September 2007 - The San Jacinto County DA denies the request.
September 2007 - Mayer Brown LLP, on behalf on behalf of The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network, files a lawsuit requesting DNA testing and asks the court to issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the destruction of evidence.
June 2010 - A Texas State Judge orders DNA testing on a one-inch strand of hair that could prove whether or not Jones was wrongfully executed.
November 2010 - DNA tests prove that the hair found at the crime scene is not from Claude Jones, eliminating the corroborative evidence needed under Texas law to convict someone when the only other evidence is the testimony of a coconspirator.