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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Texas State Court Prevents State from Destroying Evidence That May Show an Innocent Man was Executed

From innocenceproject.org: A Texas state judge this morning issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from destroying evidence that could show whether a man was wrongfully executed in 2000.

On Friday, attorneys filed motions seeking DNA testing on critical evidence in the case and also seeking an immediate order to stop the state from destroying the evidence while the court considers the request for DNA testing. Today’s order, issued by District Court Judge Elizabeth E. Coker in San Jacinto County, granted the immediate request to block destruction of the evidence and set a hearing for October 3 on whether to conduct DNA testing in 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, 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 groups, represented by attorneys at Mayer Brown LLP, filed the court motions Friday after the San Jacinto District Attorney refused to agree to DNA testing – and also refused to agree not to destroy the evidence while courts consider whether DNA testing can be conducted.

"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.” Read More About the Case. . . [Mark Godsey]

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