Congrats to OIP staff attorney Carrie Wood for her victory in this hard-fought case!
From the Columbus Dispatch (more here):
Dewey Jones’ quest to prove that he isn’t a murderer took another step forward yesterday when a judge overturned his felony conviction and granted a new trial for the Akron man, who has served 17 years of a life sentence.
The ruling by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands follows the release in April of new test results showing that DNA recovered from an Akron murder scene didn’t come from Jones.
Jones, 50, was convicted in March 1995 of robbing and killing 71-year-old Neal Rankin, a family friend. Jones previously had been convicted of drug trafficking and passing bad checks, but he has always maintained his innocence in Rankin’s murder.
“I’ve done some things I’m not proud of in life and made some bad choices,” Jones told The Dispatch last year at the Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield last year. “ But I’ve not hurt or killed anyone.”
The lab tests, conducted by DNA Diagnostics Center of Fairfield in southwestern Ohio, found a partial male DNA profile on the piece of rope used to tie Rankin’s wrists, the knife used to cut the rope, and pieces of Rankin’s shirt sleeves. None of it matched Jones when compared with his DNA.
The testing also found no DNA that matched Gary Rusu, whom the state’s leadwitness testified was in Rankin’s home on the night of the murder, Feb. 13, 1993.
Rowlands, in her two-page ruling, said the lack of DNA evidence is significant.
“The absence of both Mr. Jones’ and Mr. Rusu’s DNA on the new tested evidence calls into question the State’s entire theory of the case,” Rowlands wrote. Carrie Wood, Jones’ Innocence Project attorney from Cincinnati, said she will now be seeking Jones’ release from prison.
“Dewey Jones and his family were overjoyed at the news,” Wood said. “DNA testing not only demonstrates that Dewey Jones is innocent, but also demonstrates that there was no truth to the testimony of Willie Caton.”
Prosecutors from the Ohio attorney general’s office are handling the case. Lisa Peterson Hackley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike DeWine, said prosecutors are reviewing the judge’s ruling and would not comment yesterday.
Prosecutors have 30 days to appeal the ruling.
Jones’ case was highlighted in the Dispatch series “Test of Convictions,” which exposed flaws in Ohio’s evidence-retention and DNA-testing systems. The 2008 series has led to the exoneration of four men and proved the guilt of four others based on DNA testing.
The Dispatch reviewed more than 300 cases with the Ohio Innocence Project and highlighted 30 prisoners as prime candidates for testing, including Jones. As part of the project, attorneys for the Innocence Project then filed Jones’ request for DNA testing, which has been dragging through the court system for more than four years.
Members of Rankin’s family could not be reached yesterday for comment.
The main witness in the case against Jones was Willie Caton. He told police that while the two men were in jail together, Jones confessed to shooting Rankin.
Rowlands wrote in her ruling: “This newly discovered evidence calls into question the credibility and reliability of Mr. Caton’s testimony.”
Caton was killed in 2000 after he stole two vehicles, was involved in a high-speed chase with police, and was shot in a confrontation with the authorities.