Barry Jones, 64, was released yesterday after nearly three decades on Arizona’s death row for a crime he did not commit.
Mr. Jones was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter after his court-appointed lawyer failed to investigate and present readily available medical evidence showing that the child was not with Mr. Jones when her injuries were sustained.
Under Arizona law, state postconviction review was Mr. Jones’s first opportunity to challenge his trial lawyer’s ineffectiveness. But the state court appointed him a postconviction lawyer who did not even meet the minimum qualifications required by state law. That lawyer likewise failed to investigate and did not raise the claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the State’s medical evidence.
Not until Mr. Jones was appointed competent counsel in federal habeas proceedings did he have the chance to present the medical evidence, which the federal court relied on to find that both his trial and postconviction lawyers were ineffective. The court granted him a new trial, which was upheld by a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals.
But the State appealed, and last year the Supreme Court ruled in Shinn v. Ramirez that the federal court could not consider any evidence that had not been presented in state court.
The “perverse” and “illogical” decision meant that people like Mr. Jones who received ineffective assistance both at trial and in state postconviction proceedings “have no recourse and no opportunity for relief,” the dissent wrote.
After the Supreme Court’s decision, the Arizona attorney general reconsidered the evidence that Mr. Jones did not cause the child’s fatal injuries, including evidence that neighboring boys had hit the girl in the stomach with a metal bar a day or two before her death.
Detectives believed this caused her internal bleeding, the Arizona Republic reported.
These findings were among the evidence that eventually led the Arizona attorney general and Pima County prosecutors to agree that the Pima County Superior Court should vacate Mr. Jones’s murder conviction and death sentence, according to the Arizona Republic.
Pursuant to a settlement agreement with the State, Mr. Jones agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder because he neglected to take Rachel Gray to the hospital the night before she died, despite seeing how sick she was from an unknown fatal injury.
He was sentenced to time served and released from prison last night.
“We are profoundly grateful to the Arizona Attorney General and the Pima County Attorney for taking a fresh look at Mr. Jones’s case and acknowledging he had never received a fair trial, just as the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit had previously found,” said Federal Public Defender Cary Sandman, whose office has represented Mr. Jones for over 20 years. “We hope that Barry can enjoy the rest of his life in peace surrounded by his family and friends.”
Mr. Jones is the 12th person exonerated from Arizona’s death row since the 1970s.
In February, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Attorney General Kris Mayes halted executions pending an independent review into the state’s execution protocols.