Summit County (OH) Judge Mary Margaret Rowland has dismissed aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated robbery changes against Dewey Jones, 51, of Akron, Ohio, after he spent 20 years in prison following his conviction of the 1993 murder of Neil Rankin, 71. Jones had always claimed innocence.
According to a report from ABC Newsnet 5 (here) Cleveland, Judge Rowland granted Dewey a new trial after DNA testing results in 2012 on a knife and rope used in the crime did not match Jones and implicated another unknown male. The judge opined that this new evidence “calls into question the state’s entire theory of the case.”
The Ohio Innocence Project had argued that the new evidence proved Dewey’s claim of innocence.
As referenced on this blog and reported (here) in The Akron Beacon Journal, the Ohio Attorney General appealed the ruling but was denied in the 9th District Court of Appeals a year later, in July, 2013.
Dewey was released from jail in December 2013 pending a decision on whether or not Summit County prosecutors would retry him. County prosecutors requested that the Ohio attorney general’s office review the case. The AG’s office subsequently filed a motion requesting the judge to dismiss the charges against Dewey due in part to the state of the evidence and death of witnesses.
As reported in the Columbus Dispatch (here), the main witness against Jones was an inmate who claimed Jones had confessed to him while they were in jail together. The witness was subsequently killed by police after a high-speed chase and shootout following the witness’s theft of two vehicles.
The state has not ruled out a re-indictment of Jones following potential investigatory efforts. This is the focus of Jones’ next legal effort. Jones’ attorneys want the case dismissed with prejudice, which would mean that he would not be tried again for the murder. The Ohio Attorney General is arguing that the case should be dismissed without prejudice.
The judge will review briefs from both sides, which will inform her decision.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, “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. “But I’ve not hurt or killed anyone.”
Jones was one of 30 cases selected from more than 300 by the Columbus Dispatch and the Ohio Innocence Project in the paper’s 2008 “Test of Convictions” initiative to identify cases most worthy of DNA post-conviction testing. A year ago the paper celebrated (here) the fifth anniversary of the initiative with five exonerated men who are free today as a result of it.
From the original 30 cases selected, the Dispatch reported a year ago that in addition to the five men then exonerated, four men were proved guilty, seven were denied testing, and in 10 cases, the testing was inconclusive. Others, like Jones’ case, have been proceeding slowly through the justice system to long-awaited final resolution.
Perhaps this case should have been reviewed when the main snitch witness against Jones proved to be of questionable credibility when he was killed in a shootout with authorities.
But the overarching lesson once again of a conviction that proved to be unsupportable, tragic, and disturbing in its implications for the safety of the community, is that we must implement all possible best practices to improve the opportunity to get verdicts right the first time.