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Statement by the NCADP
AS EXECUTIONS ARE SET TO RESUME,NATION LEARNS OF YET ANOTHER DEATH ROW EXONERATIONMay 2, 2008 -- Diann Rust Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, issued the following statement today in response to today's announced exoneration out of North Carolina :
"It's been more than seven months since an execution occurred in the U.S. - the longest de facto moratorium in our country in 25 years. And today, just as executions are set to resume in the U.S. , Levon "Bo" Jones becomes the 129th person to be freed from death row since 1976, after evidence of innocence emerged. He's the eighth wrongly convicted death row inmate out of North Carolina alone. Nationally, there have been five death row exonerations since the current de facto moratorium began in late September. Jones is the second consecutive North Carolina man to be freed from death row after evidence of police misconduct was brought to light.
"It is therefore inappropriate -- indeed, incredible -- that executions are set to resume beginning next Tuesday in Georgia . Today I am reflecting on the fact that during the seven-month moratorium, states that are now gearing up to resume executions did absolutely nothing to assure that society's ultimate sanction is fair or accurate.
" New Jersey is an example of the good that can come when states stop and assess. Legislators there during the past year held hearings on New Jersey 's death penalty system and ultimately decided to repeal it. Other states such as California and Tennessee also launched studies of their death penalty statutes.
"In contrast, states like Alabama and Texas sat on their hands - waiting for a signal from the U.S. Supreme Court that they could resume executions. And when the Court did rule, its conclusions did nothing to clean up the mismanagement and incompetence that is more routine than not in states carrying out executions. Mr. Jones spent 13 years on death row, and had he been an inmate in Alabama , Oklahoma , Texas or Virginia , it is quite likely he would be dead today - and the truth buried with him.
"This is proof positive that we don't need to return to business as usual. States should suspend executions until they have examined their system and can assure us that innocent people are not at risk of execution."
And here is the press release from the ACLU.
Innocent North Carolina Man Exonerated After 14 Years On Death RowLevon "Bo" Jones Fifth Innocent Death Row Inmate Freed In Past 11 Months And 129th Since 1973
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 2, 2008
CONTACT: Will Matthews, ACLU, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; firstname.lastname@example.org
KENANSVILLE , NC - An innocent man who spent 14 years on North Carolina 's death row after being wrongfully convicted for a 1987 murder will be released from prison today. Jones has been represented by American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project lawyers Cassandra Stubbs and Brian Stull, along with North Carolina attorney Ernest "Buddy" Connor.
Levon "Bo" Jones, an African American man who has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of Leamon Grady, a white man. Jones is the fifth innocent death row inmate to be exonerated in the United States in the past 11 months, and the third innocent North Carolina death row inmate to be granted release in the past six months. He is the 129th death row exoneree since 1973.
"We never had any doubt about Bo Jones' innocence," said Connor. "We knew when we started the case that there were serious holes in the evidence. After we began seriously investigating the case, it completely unraveled."
A federal judge ordered Jones off death row in 2006 and overturned his conviction, declaring that the defense provided by Jones' initial defense attorneys was so poor that they missed critical evidence pointing to his innocence. After keeping him imprisoned in anticipation of a retrial, the Duplin County, N.C. District Attorney announced Thursday that the state was dropping all charges and Jones would be released.
The sole witness accusing Jones of the murder, Lovely Lorden, admitted in an affidavit filed last month that she "was certain that Bo did not have anything to do with Mr. Grady's murder" and that she did not know what happened the night Grady was murdered. A new trial had been set to begin May 12.
Jones' exoneration and release comes two weeks after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Baze v. Rees upholding the three drug lethal injection method of capital punishment used in Kentucky . Other states have begun to lift a de facto national moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
"This case highlights the serious and rampant flaws inherent in the death penalty," Stubbs said. "A system that can't protect the innocent from conviction shouldn't gamble with life and death. This case - and those of the many other innocent exonerees - should give states pause about lifting moratoriums after the Baze decision."
Stull said there is a direct link between Jones' 14 years on death row and the quality of his first trial counsel.
"This case points out the problems with capital counsel in many parts of the country," he said. "Bo Jones's first trial lawyer never bothered to get the many conflicting statements of Lovely Lorden, let alone do the kind of investigation necessary in a first degree murder case. We will never know if Lorden would have admitted the truth earlier had the case been investigated and had she been adequately cross-examined. "
Jones was represented in post-conviction by the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which persuaded the federal court to grant him a new trial.
Larry Lamb, a codefendant of Jones who has also always maintained his innocence, remains behind bars, serving a life sentence. Lamb turned down a plea offer of a six year sentence and was also convicted based on the testimony of Lorden. He plans to ask the newly formed North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission to review his case.