Monday, September 20, 2010

The UnSlam UnDunk Case of Richard Wayne Jones

In The Slam Dunk Case of Richard Wayne Jones I laid out the evidence that Richard Wayne Jones. abducted and brutally murdered Tammy Livingston. Everything I wrote was, as far as I know, true and accurate. The post was nonetheless deceptive and dishonest, and intentionally so. I have cautioned you before about people who might deceive and manipulate you. Perhaps now you'll trust me.

I realize that makes no sense, but such is the world of wrongful convictions.

Prosecutors, in theory, are not allowed to present untruthful information to the jury. Prosecutors, on the other hand, attempt to keep exculpatory information from the jurors. While the prosecutors are required to inform the defense of all potentially exculpatory evidence against the defendant, their willingness and ability to control what the jury hears is one of their most valuable tools. Consider, for example, the case of Richard Wayne Jones.

Let's consider that case, the State's case, as described by then Attorney General (now U.S. Senator) John Cronyn. I presented that case without comment in my previous post. I'll repeat it here, slowly, bit by bit, with annotations.
Texas Attorney General John Cronyn offers the following information on Richard Wayne Jones who is scheduled to be executed after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 22nd. Richard Wayne Jones was convicted and sentenced to death for the February 1986 murder of Tammy Livingston in Hurst, Texas. Livingston was stabbed to death 17 times and then the area around her body was set on fire.
Close enough, so far.
Jones followed Livingston as she was leaving a Michael's store at about 7:30 p.m.
The time is critical. Remember the time. 7:30 PM.
As Livingston was backing out of a parking space, Jones ran to the back of her car, opened her car door and then forced himself into the driver's seat.
Cronyn fails to mention that information is based on evidence provided by three eyewitnesses, specifically Ruthie Amato and her teenage daughters. The three eyewitnesses described the assailant as a clean shaven, white male with reddish-brown hair, who was wearing a red shirt. Jones (at that time) had blonde hair, a mustache, and was wearing a brown and gray plaid shirt. During the police line-up, Ruthie Amato identified Jones, though he did not meet the physical description she had provided earlier. Neither of the daughters were able to pick Jones from the line-up. Nonetheless, Ruthie and one of her daughters testified at trial that they were certain Jones was the person who had abducted the victim.
Later that evening, between 9:20 and 9:45, a Fort Worth resident heard screams coming from a vacant property.
 The time is critical. Remember the time. 9:30 PM, or thereabouts.
At about 11:20 that same evening, the Fort Worth Fire Department responded to a grass fire in the same area where someone had heard screams. It was there that firefighters discovered the charred remains of Tammy Livingston. Authorities determined that Livingston had been stabbed 17 times in the face and neck.
The time is critical. Remember the time. 11:30 PM, or just shy thereof.
The night after Livingston's murder, Jones bought a pair of boots with a credit card in the name of Tammy Livingston. Later that night, Jones and a woman tried to buy groceries at a Fort Worth Safeway with a check from the account of Tammy and Russell Livingston. The woman with Jones, Yelena Comalander, was arrested for trying to pass a check belonging to someone else.
More specifically, Yelena Comalander was Jones' teenage girlfriend, pregnant with their unborn child. 
The next morning, Livingston's car was recovered from a parking lot in Fort Worth. Jones' left thumb print was found on the inside of the front window of the driver's side of the car. Police also found several of Livingston's belongings including her engagement ring and her inscribed wedding band, at an apartment that Yelena Comalander took them to. Police arrested Jones a short time later.
The morning after Jones was arrested, an eyewitness to Livingston's kidnapping from the Michael's parking lot picked Jones out of a police line-up.
The State (via now U.S. Senator John Cronyn) fails to mention that neither of the daughters was able to pick Jones from the lineup, though one of the two teenagers later testified at trial that Jones was the one who abducted the victim. The eyewitnesses in this case show a common pattern of becoming increasingly confident in their identification as their memory ages, even when that identification conflicts with the initial description and was unsupported by a the results of a line-up.
Physical evidence also linked Jones to Livingston's murder.
That's true. Jones had two small spots of blood on his pants. The blood type matched that of the victim. Jones also had a barely detectable amount of blood on his boots, though that sample was too small to test. The amount of blood found on Jones is damning at first blush, then potentially exculpatory upon further consideration. If Jones had actually stabbed the victim so frequently and so brutally, one would expect Jones to be substantially more covered with blood.
Jones also signed a written statement, admitting to the kidnapping and murder of Tammy Livingston.
That's true. Jones confessed, but only after 21 hours of interrogation without food or sleep, only after the police threatened to subject his pregnant, teenage girlfriend to lethal injection, only after the police told him the State would take his child as soon as it was born and never allow him to see it.

During trial, one of his interrogators admitted that they had indeed so threatened Jones. The evening after that testimony, however, the officer apparently had an epiphany. He testified the next day that they had never threatened Jones as Jones claimed and as he had testified. Instead, he claimed his testimony from the previous day had been a misunderstanding. He somehow realized overnight that he misunderstood the question.
Jones had been out of prison for less than five months when he committed this murder.
That's true. Jones had been convicted in September 1983 of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. The sentence was seven years. He served two years and one month. He was released in October 1985, less than five months before the crime, just as (now U.S. Senator) John Cronyn wrote.
Jones signed a written statement admitting to kidnapping and murdering Tammy Livingston.
That's true. Cronyn fails to mention, however, that Jones' confession was demonstrably false based on the well-established timeline of the crime. Jones confessed that he had taken the victim straight  from the parking lot to the field, had killed her there soon after arriving, and then had set the field on fire in an attempt to cover the crime.

The timeline falsifies his confession. Recall that the eye-witnesses testified the victim was abducted near 7:30 PM, that the ear-witness testified he heard screams from the field around 9:30 PM, and that the fire department responded to the fire around 11:30 PM. There is no way that the well-established times are consistent with Jones' confession. They falsify Jones' confession, just as they would falsify the testimony of any witness who testified contrary to them. Astonishingly, the jury would somehow never learn of the time-critical errors in Jones' confession.

Jones recanted his confession, to no effect, and reverted to his initial claim that he was provided the items by someone named Walt. Walt, as it turns out was Walt Sellers, boyfriend of Jones' sister, Brenda Jones Ashmore. Jones foolishly played coy with Walt's identity early on because he wanted to protect his sister. Brenda had told him that she and Walt killed Tammy Livingstone and she asked him to help cover up the crime.

Jones version of events is that he arrived home from work and soon thereafter went with Brenda, at Brenda's request, to Walt's house. There he met Walt Sellers who had blood all over his shirt and arms. Walt sold him Livingston’s checks, credit cards, jewelry, and car on the condition that Jones help destroy the crime scene.

Jones admitted using Livingston’s credit cards and checks but denied kidnapping or murdering Livingston or burning her body. Unlike his confession, his original story is entirely consistent with all the evidence in the case. His story is also supported by five other people, none of whom testified at trial. More on those five people soon.
Jones' thumb print was found inside the front window of Tammy Livingston's car.
That's true. In her grand jury testimony Yelena Comalander (Jones' pregnant, teenage girlfriend) explained the thumbprint, the car, and the other items during her grand jury testimony.  Her testimony corroborated that of Jones. She testified that Jones came home from work on the night of the murder and immediately left in his mother’s car. He returned later, with his sister, Brenda, in the victim's station wagon. He did not have any blood on him. He gave her (Yelena) the credit cards and checks from a purse in the car. He told her he obtained the car and the purse from “Walt.” They drove to a parking lot where Jones’ mother’s car was parked. She drove his mother’s car to another parking lot where Jones left the station wagon. They then drove around together, tried to use Livingston’s bank card, went home to pick up gasoline, and then went to a field where Jones lit the field on fire.

During her grand jury testimony, Yelena testified she lied to the police in her  initial statement when she implicated Jones. She did so because the police threatened her with capital murder charges.

The prosecution could easily have charged her with perjury right then and there, had they been so inclined. Instead, they used the admitted conflict between her police statement and her grand jury testimony to prevent her from testifying during trial on Jones' behalf. When called to testify, she took the Fifth, refusing to testify because she feared prosecution for perjury. The defense asked that she be granted immunity from prosecution, but the State and the Court refused. The jury never heard from Yelena and the the prosecution did not charge her with perjury. It all worked out well, for almost everyone. (This reminds me of The Well-Orchestrated Trial and Execution of David Wayne Stoker.)
An eyewitness who saw Jones kidnap Livingston from the Michael's parking lot picked Jones out of a police line-up.
I addressed the eyewitness testimony after Cronyn first brought it up. This is now the third time Cronyn has mentioned it while continuing to omit critical details.
A pair of jeans and a shirt Jones was wearing the night of Livingston's murder were found to have blood on them that was the same blood type as Livingston's.
That's true. That's the physical evidence Cronyn alluded to earlier. The defense position was that Jones' small samples of blood transferred to Jones' pants and boots as he walked through the field which had been already contaminated with blood from the victim. They argued that the actual killer would have blood all over his shirt, arms, and elsewhere. That would be someone like "Walt", Walt Sellers.

Jones is not the only person to have claimed seeing Walt covered in blood, and/or in possession of the victim's checks, but Jones is the only one the jurors would hear make that claim. Scott Christian testified to the grand jury that Walt Sellers tried to sell him credit cards and checks, and that Walt had blood splatters on his T-shirt, hands and forearms. James Richard King testified to the grand jury that he saw Walt Sellers in a bloody shirt early in 1986, when Walt was trying to sell checks. Douglas Wayne Daffern said he saw Sellers with credit cards and checks bearing the name Livingston.

Scott Christian would not testify at Jones' trial. As did Yelena Comalander, Scott Christian would refuse to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The prosecutors were threatening him with prosecution for drug charges.

Neither James Richard King nor Douglas Wayne Daffern would even appear in court. Instead, they mysteriously disappeared before trial. (This reminds me of the convenient disappearance of Jamie Smith and Audrey Davis before The Trial of Cory Maye.)
Jones bought a pair of boots with a credit card in the name of Tammy Livingston, the night after Livingston was murdered.
Cronyn never makes clear whether the boots Jones purchased were the ones he was wearing when arrested, the ones that had a sample of blood too small to test.
Jones and another woman, Yelena Comalander, tried to buy groceries with a check that was traced to the account of Tammy and Russell Livingston.
And so ends Cronyn's summary, not with a bang but with a whimper.

When all was said and done, the jurors would convict Jones presumably on the basis of his confession, the eye-witness testimony, the blood on his pants, his fingerprint on the victim's car, and his attempted use of the victim's financial documents. The prosecution had plenty. The defense had only Jones' uncorroborated story that he got all the stuff from Walt and burned the field in partial payment thereof.

The jurors never heard corroboration from Yelena Comalander. She took the Fifth, in fear of prosecution for perjury. The defense attempted to introduce her grand jury testimony in her place, but the prosecution objected and the Court stood with the State.

The jurors never heard from Scott Christian who testified earlier that Walt Sellers was covered in blood as he tried to sell the victim's documents. Scott Christian took the Fifth and the Jones' prosecutors declined to waive prosecution of Christian.

The jurors never heard from James Richard King who testified earlier that Walt Sellers was covered in blood as he tried to sell the victim's documents. James Richard King mysteriously and conveniently disappeared before trial. The defense attempted to introduce his grand jury testimony in his place, but the prosecution objected and the Court stood by the State.

The jurors never heard from Douglas Wayne Daffern who testified earlier that Walt Sellers had been in possession of Tammy Livingston's checks. Douglas Wayne Daffern mysteriously and conveniently disappeared before trial. The defense attempted to introduce his grand jury testimony in his place, but the prosecution objected and the Court stood by the state.

Somehow, the jurors never learned of the conflict between the timeline of Jones confession and the actual timeline. It would have made no difference in any case.

The jurors never heard either from Terry Gravelle nor Robert Dean Miller. After Jones' convictions, Gravelle and Miller each served time with Walt Sellers, who as it turned out was also a low-life. Gravelle affirmed that Walt Sellers told him Jones was innocent and chuckled about his conviction. Walt explained that "there was a problem using the stolen checks or cards" so he gave them to Jones. Miller affirmed a similar conversation with Walt.

The appellate courts would be unmoved by the circumstances or flimsiness of Jones' confession. They would be similarly unmoved by the inability of the defense to introduce the testimony of three people who would corroborate Jones' testimony, or by the post-conviction affidavits of two reverse snitches. Nor would they command testing of potentially exculpatory DNA.

Oh! Did I fail to mention there was DNA? Well there was. Before Texas could execute Richard Wayne Jones, the case took a twist that will be of interest to those who have been following this blog. Rob Owen, the person primarily responsible for bringing Hank Skinner's case to the Supreme Court, became involved with Jones' appeal. (Rob Owen was also involved in the appeal of  Robert Nelson Drew.) Rob tried mightily to have DNA from the crime scene tested. He was particularly interested in having the rape kit tested. (This sounds so familiar.) The courts refused and Rob made his final appeal to the Governor.

This is where the case takes another interesting twist. The Governor at the time was George Bush, but Bush was out of state. Instead, the last minute appeal for DNA testing fell upon then Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry. That's right, the same Rick Perry who has refused to order testing of potentially exculpatory DNA in the Hank Skinner case.

It's been clear to me that Rick Perry owns the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, and has been trying mightily to see that the investigation into that execution not move forward. It's also abundantly clear that Rick Perry will own the execution of Hank Skinner, should that take place. Now I learn that Rick Perry owns the execution of Richard Wayne Jones.


Finally, I present my Actual Innocence Scorecard for Richard Wayne Jones. I score him at 77. I believe it is three times as likely that Richard Wayne Jones was factually innocent as it is he was factually guilty.

If you read the post just prior to this one, and if you are honest with yourself, I suspect you are now surprised that I scored Jones so high, that I scored him much above zero. That's because I deceived you previously by withholding information. Perhaps now you'll trust me when I tell you to trust no one, to instead be a skeptical juror.