DNA casts doubt on Texas man's execution

2010-11-12 13:31

Washington - A Texas man was condemned to death and executed in 2000 on the basis of hair that did not belong to him, according to the results of a DNA test released on Thursday.

A test by Mitotyping Technologies published by the Texas Observer magazine - which fought a three-year legal battle to gain access to the evidence - showed that Claude Howard Jones was "excluded as the contributor of this questioned hair".

Jones - who had a long criminal record - had insisted that he was waiting in the car when his accomplice killed Allen Hilzendager during a liquor store robbery.

He was convicted of the 1989 murder, and denied several appeals, largely on the basis of that single strand of hair which police found at the scene.

Forensic science was limited at the time to examining the hair under a microscope, where it appeared to belong to Jones.

The DNA test posted on the magazine's website found that the hair likely belonged instead to the victim.

Analysing hair under a microscope was later abandoned after it was deemed inconclusive and obsolete with the development of DNA testing.

Serious doubts

Jones requested a DNA test and a stay of execution until it could be performed, but he was denied by then-governor George W Bush.

Documents obtained by the Texas Observer and the Innocence Project showed that "attorneys in the governor's office failed to inform Bush that DNA evidence might exonerate Jones", the Observer wrote.

Bush, embroiled in the 2000 presidential election recount at the time of the execution, was a proponent of DNA testing in death penalty cases and had previously halted another execution so key evidence could be tested.

"Because the DNA testing doesn't implicate another shooter, the results don't prove Jones' innocence," the Texas Observer wrote.

"But the hair was the only piece of evidence that placed Jones at the crime scene. So while the results don't exonerate him, they raise serious doubts about his guilt."

A Texas judge is currently considering whether another man executed on the basis of out-dated forensic evidence was indeed innocent.

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a 1991 fire that killed his three daughters. Experts have testified that the evidence used to prove the fire was arson was flawed.