Statement of Senator Rodney Ellis on the Execution of Claude Jones Based on Discredited Forensic Evidence
Sen. Rodney Ellis issued the following statement regarding new DNA tests showing that important hair evidence used to convict and execute Claude Jones was fatally flawed:
"Something is terribly wrong with Texas' criminal justice system. Today we learned that the hair evidence used to convict and execute Claude Jones was flawed, and DNA testing has now proven that the hair was not his. Jones requested a 30-day reprieve from then President-elect Bush to conduct a DNA test on the hair, but the General Counsel memo to then President-elect Bush failed to let him know that Jones was seeking DNA testing of the only physical evidence in the case. That is simply unacceptable and raises serious concerns about the post-conviction review process for death row inmates in Texas.
Months before Mr. Jones was executed, then-Governor Bush recommended that I issue a 30-day reprieve for Ricky McGinn while I was serving as acting Governor when he was on the presidential campaign trail. I issued that reprieve, stating at the time, 'I sincerely believe in the principle of swift and sure punishment, but our paramount concern must always be to ensure that justice is done.' Then-Governor Bush said of McGinn's reprieve, 'To the extent that DNA can help in innocence or guilt, particularly in death penalty cases, but in all cases, I think that's very valid, very important.' With that in mind, I believe that President Bush would have seriously considered a reprieve for Claude Jones and he could be alive today now that we know the hair found at the crime scene was not his.
In addition to Jones' execution based on questionable evidence, a couple of weeks ago we learned that Anthony Graves spent 18 years in prison - twelve of them on death row - for a murder with zero physical evidence linking him to the crime. While a case review by prosecutors set him free, prosecutorial misconduct destroyed his life.
It would be disturbing enough if these were isolated incidents, but these compounding miscarriages of justice are clear and convincing evidence that our justice system is broken and we need to take the necessary steps to fix it. I hope my friends in the Legislature and the Governor will join with me next session in passing legislation endorsed by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions. The bi-partisan panel comprised of criminal justice stakeholders recommended such common-sense reforms like improving eyewitness identification procedures, recording interrogations, and updating the post-conviction DNA testing statute. In addition, additional funding of indigent defense is sorely needed, as are more public defender offices to remove the inherent conflict of interest of judges appointing lawyers. All of these reforms and many others are needed if we are going to restore Texans' faith in the accuracy and integrity of our state's criminal justice system."