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Truth Hangs by a Hair
Texas Observer; mercurynews.com; Henderson Daily News; Texas Ranger T. Walker Ret. ^ | 9-27-07; 11-26-07; 9-20-07; 910-07 | David Pasztor; Tony Floyd; Michael Graczyk

Posted on 11/26/2007 2:07:04 PM PST by rw4site

Edited on 11/26/2007 2:19:33 PM PST by Admin Moderator. [history]

A state district judge Monday ordered officials in an East Texas county to preserve a 1-inch-long piece of hair that was key evidence almost two decades ago in a capital murder case.

An anti-death penalty group wants to know whether Claude Jones was wrongly executed in December 2000. Jones was the last of a record 40 inmates executed in Texas that year and the last of 152 inmates put to death during George W. Bush's time as governor.


(Excerpt) Read more at texasobserver.org ...


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: claudjones; deathpenalty; deathrow; dnatesting; getbush; texas
I know Ranger T. Walker, Retired, personally and he was one of the investigators who worked this case.

WE had to use the article from the mercurynews.com web site because out local paper does not have the archive of it. We ran a google on the ap article title and found it.

1 posted on 11/26/2007 2:07:06 PM PST by rw4site
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To: rw4site

Repeat offender may have been “mistakenly” executed. On the whole, the man was guilty and would’ve been likely to commit more crimes.

And this is the best case they can cite for “the death penalty may have killed an innocent man”?

There are 42million dead children who didn’t get a hearing before they were sucked down the drain.


2 posted on 11/26/2007 2:13:46 PM PST by weegee (End the Bush-Bush-Bush-Clinton/Clinton-Clinton/Clinton-Bush-Bush-Clinton/Clinton Oligarchy 1980-2012)
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To: 1riot1ranger; Action-America; Aggie Mama; Alkhin; Allegra; American72; antivenom; Antoninus II; ...

Houston PING


3 posted on 11/26/2007 2:14:28 PM PST by weegee (End the Bush-Bush-Bush-Clinton/Clinton-Clinton/Clinton-Bush-Bush-Clinton/Clinton Oligarchy 1980-2012)
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To: rw4site

Was he found guilty by a jury? What’s Bush got to do with it?


4 posted on 11/26/2007 2:22:13 PM PST by Dr. Bogus Pachysandra ("Don't touch that thing")
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To: rw4site

San Jose Mercury News material must be excerpted. Because of a glitch in the FR software, your post was brutalized. Would you like to post again (with the SJ Mercury material excerpted)? Sorry.


5 posted on 11/26/2007 2:22:16 PM PST by Admin Moderator
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To: Dr. Bogus Pachysandra
Bush was governor at the time and “didn’t stop it”. Meanwhile the large number of executions that occurred on Bush’s watch occurred because of a log jam to executions that cleared.
6 posted on 11/26/2007 2:29:10 PM PST by weegee (End the Bush-Bush-Bush-Clinton/Clinton-Clinton/Clinton-Bush-Bush-Clinton/Clinton Oligarchy 1980-2012)
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To: rw4site

I’m stepping out. Just let the rest of us back here know what you want to do by communicating through the Report Abuse feature.


7 posted on 11/26/2007 2:31:01 PM PST by Admin Moderator
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To: weegee
"Bush was governor at the time and “didn’t stop it”. Meanwhile the large number of executions that occurred on Bush’s watch occurred because of a log jam to executions that cleared."

I thought Texas law limits the governor's power to stop executions anyway.

8 posted on 11/26/2007 2:42:23 PM PST by boop (Who doesn't love poison pot pies?)
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To: rw4site
Re-Post of butchered articles.

The Texas Observer article was published twice. First in Sept and again Nov. 26, 2007
http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2589
http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2583

Truth Hangs by a Hair

DNA tests sought by the Observer and the Innocence Project could show whether Texas executed an innocent man.

David Pasztor | September 21, 2007 | Features

One strand of hair found on the counter of an East Texas liquor store whose owner was gunned down in 1989 could help determine whether Texas executed an innocent man for the killing.

On September 10, a state district judge in San Jacinto County ordered county officials not to destroy the hair and other evidence used to convict Claude Howard Jones at his 1990 trial while The Texas Observer, the Innocence Project, and other criminal justice groups pursue a lawsuit seeking to have the hair released to a certified private laboratory for testing.

“If the state of Texas did execute an innocent man, the people of Texas deserve to know what was done in their name,” said Observer Executive Editor Jake Bernstein. “This case begs for further examination. It’s not as if the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has an exemplary track record when it comes to scrutinizing death sentences.”

If successful, the lawsuit could not only discover whether Jones was innocent, but better define the public’s right to information that sheds light on the integrity of the Texas criminal justice system. “It’s really been a source of great frustration for us when we can’t get access to evidence we think could be useful to determine if there’s been a miscarriage of justice,” said David Dow, director of the Texas Innocence Network, a University of Houston law clinic that assists inmates with innocence claims.

The 1-inch hair of ambiguous origin was the only piece of physical evidence that purportedly linked Jones to the November 14, 1989, murder of Allen Hilzendager in Point Blank, about 85 miles north of Houston. Jones was put to death by lethal injection on December 7, 2000, the last execution conducted under former Gov. George W. Bush.

Jones, a multiple felon who was 61 when he was executed, maintained his innocence until his death. No DNA testing was conducted on the hair, which has remained in the files of the San Jacinto District Court clerk’s office. At Jones’ trial, a state expert who examined the hair by microscope testified that of all the people known to have been in the liquor store on the day of the murder, the stray hair most closely resembled Jones’.

Because of lingering questions about his guilt, on September 4 the Observer, the New York-based Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas, and the Texas Innocence Network filed a public records request with San Jacinto County asking that the hair be preserved and be turned over to an independent lab certified by the state Department of Public Safety for mitochondrial DNA testing. It is apparently the first time Texas open records laws have been used to seek release of physical evidence in a death penalty case.

“It is haunting to consider that the state may have executed an innocent man, but DNA testing should be conducted to get to the truth,” said Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck. “The bottom line is that Claude Jones was convicted based on the hair evidence ... and DNA testing on the hair could definitely show whether Claude Jones was guilty.”

In response to the open records request, San Jacinto County District Attorney Bill Burnett—who was not in office when Jones was prosecuted—would make no commitment to preserve the hair, according to William H. Knull, an attorney with the international law firm Mayer Brown. Knull is representing the Observer and other groups. Burnett did not return phone calls from the Observer seeking comment.

Mayer Brown lawyers won a temporary restraining order from District Judge Elizabeth Coker protecting all evidence in the case. Coker scheduled a hearing for October 24 to decide whether to issue a temporary injunction extending the preservation order while the lawsuit is pressed.

“My understanding is that the hair is the only piece of physical evidence that ties Mr. Jones to the crime,” Knull said. “If that single piece of physical evidence is destroyed, I’m not aware of any other basis with which to go forward with this investigation.”

Court records and opinions written by appellate judges clearly indicate that the hair was the most damning piece of evidence against Jones. Without it, prosecutors had only inconclusive eyewitness testimony and statements made by two co-defendants who said Jones was the killer. The co-defendants escaped death sentences.

Hilzendager, the 44-year-old owner of Zell’s liquor store on state Highway 150 near Lake Livingston, was shot three times with a .357-caliber magnum.

Jones, whose criminal record included prison stints in Texas and Kansas for robbery, burglary, theft, assault, and murder, had recently been released on parole. He was in the area hanging around with two other men, Kerry Dixon and Timothy Mark Jordan, the alleged owner of the gun used to kill Hilzendager.

Witnesses agreed that in the early evening of November 14, 1989, two men in a pickup truck similar to Dixon’s pulled up at the liquor store. One man went inside, three shots were fired, and the men drove away. Descriptions of the men varied, and neither of the two eyewitnesses who were across the highway at the time was able to positively identify the man who entered the store.

When picked up by police, Dixon and Jordan both told police Jones was the killer. Jones was arrested on a bank robbery charge in early December in Florida and sent back to Texas. All three men were charged with capital murder. Dixon received a 60-year sentence. Jordan agreed to a 10-year sentence in a plea bargain.

At Jones’ trial, a hair found on the liquor-store counter proved crucial to the prosecution. Stephen Robertson, a DPS forensics expert, testified that the hair was a potential match to Jones, but said, “Technology has not advanced where we can tell you that this hair came from that person. Can’t do that. We can tell you that this hair matches this person in all characteristics and could be his.”

The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Jones’ conviction in 1994 in a sharply divided 3-2 ruling. Both sides placed great weight on the hair, but reached different conclusions. The three-judge majority upheld the conviction partly because Jones “was the only person with access to the pistol whose hair sample matched the one discovered at the murder scene.”

Two dissenting judges said Robertson’s analysis of the hair was “insufficient” to connect Jones to the murder, and criticized the majority for “carelessly reading the record or deliberately mischaracterizing the record.”

Shortly before his execution, Jones filed an appeal seeking DNA testing of the hair using methods not available at the time of his trial. Coker rejected the request, ruling that Jones had used up his chances to appeal his conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals also rejected the last-minute plea for DNA testing.

The day he was set to die, Jones appealed to Bush for a 30-day stay of execution to buy time for DNA testing. Typically in death penalty cases, the governor’s office of general counsel prepares a memo summarizing the appeal and making a recommendation as to whether the governor should grant a stay.

In Jones’s case, the four-page staff memo provided to Bush made no mention of the possibility that DNA testing might shed light on Jones’ guilt. Instead, it summarized the prosecution’s case and recommended that Bush reject the request. Bush had earlier granted a stay for another death-row inmate seeking DNA testing, saying “anytime DNA testing 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.”

Although it was clearly spelled out in the stay request filed by Jones’s lawyer—and a lawyer in Bush’s office apparently contacted Robertson to talk about the hair—Bush was apparently unaware of the DNA question. He rejected the plea, and Jones was executed hours later.

Since Jones’ death, DNA testing has emerged as a powerful tool in freeing the innocent and exposing fallibilities in the criminal justice system. The Innocence Project, founded in affiliation with the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in 1992 to pursue such cases, counts 207 inmates who have been freed from prison when DNA testing proved their innocence, including 15 who were sent to death rows across the country. In 77 cases, DNA testing also helped identify the guilty party.

DNA testing after an inmate has been executed is rare, but not without precedent. In Virginia, widespread speculation about the possible innocence of Roger Coleman, executed in 1992 for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law, led to DNA testing of a semen sample 13 years after he was put to death. Despite Coleman’s vigorous protestations of innocence, the test confirmed his guilt, showing a one-in-19 million chance that the semen belonged to someone else.

In Georgia, Ellis Wayne Felker was executed in 1996 for the rape and murder of a 19-year-old student. Evidence against him was largely circumstantial. Four years later, DNA tests on fingernail scrapings found on the victim’s body were inconclusive.

Whether or not DNA testing bolsters Jones’ innocence claim, resolving lingering questions about the case is crucial, Knull said. “We all have an interest in knowing that our state and its mechanisms are working properly, especially in issues involving life and death,” he said.

Texas has an established track record of sending innocent men to death row. Some—Clarence Brandley, Randall Dale Adams, and Kerry Max Cook among them—have escaped execution and eventually been freed on appeal.

But substantive questions remain about how many innocent inmates the state might have executed. In about a half-dozen cases, serious indications have arisen after the fact that point to an executed inmate’s innocence.

Perhaps the most notorious case was that of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004. Willingham was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three children, a 2-year-old girl and 1-year-old twins. Experts who later scrutinized evidence in the case concluded that the fire probably was not arson.

Other questionable cases have involved inmates largely implicated on the testimony of accomplices who escaped death sentences themselves, a botched crime-scene investigation that destroyed evidence, and an incompetent defense attorney who failed to present a case for his client.

State public records laws apparently have never before been used to obtain physical evidence for independent testing. In the lawsuit, the Observer and other plaintiffs argue that testing the hair in the Jones case is a logical extension of the public’s right to access. Prosecutors and the courts no longer have any use for the hair, the lawsuit argues, leaving no reason why it cannot be tested.

With limited exceptions, the evidence used to convict someone is considered public record, enjoying a “powerful and historic presumption in favor of public access,” the lawsuit argues.

The Texas Innocence Network has filed public records requests for evidence in noncapital cases, but has always been turned down, Dow said. The public access question has never been litigated, he said.

“Under any circumstances, (this case) will clarify what the public’s right is when it comes to having access to evidence used to obtain a criminal conviction,” he said.

Observer intern Leah Finnegan contributed to this report.

XXX

http://www.hendersondailynews.com/articles/2007/09/20/news/03rangerwed.txt

Ex-Texas Ranger objects to anti-death penalty group's assertions

By TONY FLOYD
Henderson Daily News

A retired Texas Ranger in Henderson accuses the leader of a New York anti-death penalty group of lying when questioning evidence used to put a convicted murderer and lifelong criminal to death in December 2000.

Tom Walker, who retired in his native Rusk County after serving as a Texas Ranger throughout his law enforcement career in the Houston area, said evidence overwhelmingly confirmed that Claude Jones was the triggerman in the November 1989 killing of liquor store owner Allen Hilzedager in Point Blank, located in San Jacinto County.

However, Nina Morrison, attorney for The Innocence Project, a legal clinic affiliated with Yeshiva University Law School in New York, contends a one-inch long hair was key evidence in the capital murder case. A state district judge has set a hearing for Oct. 3 to consider whether DNA testing should be performed on the hair.

Walker said current DNA analysis technology was unavailable in the late 1980s.

“Nina Morrison and the Innocence Project and all affiliated supporters are liars when they state a one-inch hair convicted Claude Jones of murder,” Walker told the Henderson Daily News Tuesday.

Walker said a hair was never central to a conviction. “There was never any testimony that the hair came from the head of Claude Jones. The testimony was that it only had similarities to Jones' hair.”

Walker also accused Morrison of being dishonest when she stated that Jones' accomplices, Timothy Jordan and Kerry Dixon, gave confessions about their crime spree. She failed to state that one of the witnesses, a 12-13-year-old girl, gave an exact description of Jones as he killed the liquor store owner, thereby corroborating Dixon's testimony.

“The description of Jones by the young girl was so accurate that when I was shown photographs of a bank robbery by the FBI that occurred shortly after the killing I recognized Jones as the person I was trying to identify in the murder investigation.”

Morrison and the Innocence Project also failed to note that Jones' own mother identified Jones and corroborated the young girl's testimony.

Walker said the anti-death penalty group also failed to note that Jones had spent more time in jail than in the free world for a series of “horrendous crimes.”

“His own mother, a decent and honorable person, was ashamed, which caused her to do the honorable thing in this crime spree,” Walker said.

“Nina Morrison needs to be truthful when she represents her cause,” he said. “DNA of the hair will prove nothing, besides the overwhelming evidence that convicted Claude Jones.

“When the state of Texas, under the governorship of George W. Bush, stuck a needle in this man's arm, they were right on target.”

Managing Editor Tony Floyd can be reached via email at tfloyd@hendersondailynews.com.

XXX

Statement of Retired Texas Ranger, Tommy Walker relating to the above articles. He is telling me what to type.

"In my career as a police officer, Claud Jones was the most evil man I had ever encountered. Had the "Scream for Justice" been properly applied for his second murder where Claud killed another inmate by throwing gasoline on him, setting him on fire, his third victim and the one for which he was executed, Allen Hilzendager, a well loved man, in a small community near Huntsville, TX. would be alive today."

"The recidivism rate of convicted serial killers put to death in Texas is zero percent. Prison guards and inmates deserve the same protection as citizens in the free world. The only worry I have in the conviction of Claud Jones is that he should be dug up every two years and given a booster shot. Anyone who believes differently should have the job of guarding these "mistreated" killers or working the crime scenes they leave behind."

"It also bothers me that Nina Morrison is continually referring to Claud Jones as an innocent man. She needs to read the trial transcripst and see "all" the overwhelming evidence presented." "I can assure the people of Texas that all of the mechanisms and procedures in this capital murder conviction were in place." "I'm sure the Innocence Project will find some liberal, jelly brained, judge that will think different."

9 posted on 11/26/2007 2:50:33 PM PST by rw4site (Little men want Big Government!)
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To: rw4site
He is telling me what to type.

Do you hear voices in your head?

10 posted on 11/26/2007 2:54:50 PM PST by humblegunner (My KungFu is ten times power.)
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To: rw4site
Jones, whose criminal record included prison stints in Texas and Kansas for robbery, burglary, theft, assault, and murder

An "innocent" man? I think not.

11 posted on 11/26/2007 3:00:46 PM PST by Fido969 ("The hardest thing in the world to understand is income tax." - Albert Einstein)
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To: humblegunner

Yes.


12 posted on 11/26/2007 3:17:58 PM PST by Eaker (If illegal immigrants were so great for an economy; Mexico would be building a wall to keep them in)
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To: humblegunner
Retired Texas Ranger T. Walker was a classmate all through K-12 and a friend since the early 1940s. He was sitting beside me dictating what he wanted to say.

I will stay out of the discussion as this is what he (Walker, a real Texas Ranger, not the TV one) wanted posted and I am only the conduit.

He is interested in what others have to say about the Innocence Project and their agenda to end the death penalty and at the same time blame President Bush and himself for Claud Jones' execution.

13 posted on 11/26/2007 3:41:38 PM PST by rw4site (Little men want Big Government!)
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To: rw4site

Thanks for the information, my FRiend. And my highest regards to your friend who furnished it.


14 posted on 11/26/2007 3:55:40 PM PST by Humidston
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To: All

So if DNA evidence can instantly clear someone and free them from prison, should we not be able to instantly execute someone who is irrefutably damned by DNA evidence?


15 posted on 11/26/2007 4:37:31 PM PST by Maverick68 (w)
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Tom Walker, who retired in his native Rusk County after serving as a Texas Ranger throughout his law enforcement career in the Houston area, said evidence overwhelmingly confirmed that Claude Jones was the triggerman in the November 1989 killing of liquor store owner Allen Hilzedager in Point Blank, located in San Jacinto County.

I rather doubt that the strand of hair was the only evidence introduced in the case. Heck, maybe it was my hair. That doesn't exonerate the man convicted of the murder.

16 posted on 11/26/2007 4:44:08 PM PST by KarinG1 (Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily represent those of sane people.)
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To: rw4site

Thank Ranger Walker for his service and tell him that I agree wholeheartedly with him. I do not want innocent folks in jail and though this group may have exonerated some, they knowingly help the guilty escape justice and are proud of it.


17 posted on 11/26/2007 6:24:27 PM PST by Eagles6
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To: KarinG1
"I rather doubt that the strand of hair was the only evidence introduced in the case. Heck, maybe it was my hair. That doesn't exonerate the man convicted of the murder"

Thank you! Jeez, I know they didn't have DNA testing in 1989, but I seriously doubt they would sentence someone to death because he had hair that "looked like" one found at the scene. I'm sure there was much more to it. I still don't know how DNA "exonerates" people anyway. Just because it wasn't from that particular guy doesn't prove he wasn't at the scene. Maybe he had accomplices.

18 posted on 11/26/2007 7:03:30 PM PST by boop (Who doesn't love poison pot pies?)
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To: boop; KarinG1
Please read my post at #9 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1930803/posts?page=9#9

It contains Retired Ranger T. Walker's Statement. The article from the Henderson Daily News just above his statement was written in response to a letter he had sent to the Henderson Daily News about an AP article they had published the week prior.

Walker has the article he had cut out of the paper, but we could not find it in the H.D.N. archives. We searched google using the title and it came up from the mercurynews.com web site.

Unaware that mercurynews.com must be excerpted, I posted the entire mercurynews.com article and the mechanism of excerpting most of the article also removed the parts I re-posted in #9.

19 posted on 11/27/2007 9:03:50 AM PST by rw4site (Little men want Big Government!)
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To: rw4site
You mean this part?

Tom Walker, who retired in his native Rusk County after serving as a Texas Ranger throughout his law enforcement career in the Houston area, said evidence overwhelmingly confirmed that Claude Jones was the triggerman in the November 1989 killing of liquor store owner Allen Hilzedager in Point Blank, located in San Jacinto County.

That's what I was getting at.

20 posted on 11/27/2007 6:55:22 PM PST by KarinG1 (Opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily represent those of sane people.)
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