Wrongly executed man showed fatal flaw in capital punishment

My Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year is dead. And you killed him.

So did I – and all other Texans. Together, we took the life of Claude Jones in a Huntsville execution chamber on Dec. 7, 2000. And now we know we were wrong in killing him.

Jones, 60, was executed for the robbery and murder of a liquor store owner in 1989.

Let it be stipulated: Jones was a sorry human being and a lifelong criminal.

But that’s beside the point. What is important is that we erred in executing him. It shouldn’t have happened.

Jones’ alleged accomplices testified against him. But under Texas law, accomplice testimony alone isn’t enough for a conviction. It must be backed by other evidence.

And in Jones’ case, that was a single strand of hair found at the crime scene. A forensic expert examined it by microscope and testified that the hair could have come from Jones but not the store owner.

But a DNA test performed earlier this year revealed that the strand of hair was not Jones’. His conviction and execution rested on false evidence.

But our system failed him twice.

As his execution date neared, Jones asked the governor’s office for a 30-day reprieve to allow DNA testing. George W. Bush was governor at the time and had granted such requests.

But Bush’s staff failed to include the crucial DNA request in briefing papers. He denied a reprieve.

So 10 years ago this week, we wrongly killed a man.

Claude Jones is no hero. But his death makes clear again that there is too much room for human error for a modern, civilized society to continue with capital punishment.

That’s my Texan of the Year – so you and I are forced to decide if we want to kill anyone else by mistake.Coming Dec. 26

 

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