Friday, November 12, 2010

Mea Culpa

I have added a big time addendum to Update On the Surprising Case of The Despicable Claude Jones. If you haven't read that post, you should probably go there, read it and continue directly to the addendum added there. For anyone who has already read that post, I'll make it easy and post the addendum immediately below.


Normally I spend at least a week working on a case, on and off, before I post on it. That's good since it allows me time to consider and weigh all the evidence. Last night, I posted the update regarding Claude Howard Jones as soon as I realized the DNA testing returned negative for Jones. I guess I was more concerned about the timeliness of my post than the thoroughness.

I did not, for example, account at all for some of the information provided in the Innocence Project timeline, the very timeline I linked to in the post. More specifically, I did not adjust my scoring to account for new information (at least new to me) that on the day of the shooting Claude Jones had been with Danny Dixon, Timothy Jordan, AND Terry Hardin. I hadn't uncovered that tidbit in my previous research, though I should have captured part of it earlier from the Attorney General's Media Advisory.

I believe I also gave insufficient weight to the seemingly well-established fact that Jones, Dixon, and Jordan participated in other robberies together.

Finally, I noticed in a new comment to my original post on Jones that Jordan's recantation consisted of saying that Dixon told him Jones confessed to him, rather than Jones confessing directly to Jordan That may or may not be true. If anyone can source Jordan's recantation so we can all read it directly, that would be great.

After considering and weighing everything I now know, here's what I believe happened that day.

Claude Howard Jones met with Danny Dixon, Timothy Jordan, and Terry Hardin (Jordan's girlfriend) at the home of Jordan's father. At least two of them decided to perform a robbery. Using Timothy Jordan's .357 revolver, which Terry Hardin had purchased for him as a gift, and Danny Dixon's pickup, at least two of them robbed the liquor store in Point Blank, Texas, and one of them shot and killed Allen Hilzendager.

A witness saw the pickup truck and that allowed police to arrest Dixon and Jordan. They did not initially arrest Jones. Dixon refused to cooperate but Jordan worked a deal with the cops and the DA. He claimed he only planned the robbery and provided the gun, but that Dixon and Jones were the two who actually committed the robbery. Not only that, Jones confessed to him that he did the shooting.

The state of Texas had a problem. The law does not allow a conviction based  solely on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. Jordan's story would have to be corroborated with something. The eyewitness testimony was troublesome, since neither of the eyewitnesses could actually identify Jones. The State could and did use Terry Hardin to buttress the eyewitness testimony, but she might have also fallen into the accomplice category. (I'm guessing she also struck a deal with the police.)

The State did, however, have that tiny 1" hair segment, and darned if the forensic lab didn't identify that segment as being consistent with Jones but nobody else. It was, as we now know, a bunch of crap, but it was the critical piece necessary to corroborate their purchased testimony.

Dixon, who refused to cooperate, got 60 years. Jones, who was fingered by Jordan and  Jordan's girlfriend Terry Hardin, got the needle. Jordan got off with ten years for that murder and another robbery combined. Hardin, best I can tell, walked.

When Jordan later recanted, Texas convicted him of aggravated perjury, not because they object to perjury (since they purchase perjured testimony by the crate) but because he made them look bad. They  also wanted to send a message to anyone who might think about recanting in the future. Texas was certainly not bothered that they might have needled the wrong man.

So this case completely and totally sucks. For the pro-death penalty folks who will never concede Texas might have made a mistake, they simply look foolish when they claim to be 100% confident that Jones was the shooter or driver. They simply can't know.  For the anti-death penalty folks who hope to find solid proof of an innocent person wrongfully convicted, they may not want to hitch their horse to this wagon.

I'm more comfortable scoring this case (and all such cases) as uncertain, as probabilities rather than certainties. I'm more comfortable changing my scoring as appropriate when new evidence comes my way. I fault myself in this case for researching too poorly and posting too quickly. I have revised my scorecard for a second time, and include it to the right. Based on everything I think I know now, I score Claude Howard Jones at 48.

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