Executed For A Hair That Wasn’t His

On December 7, 2000, Claude Jones was executed for the liquor store murder of Allen Hilzendager. Jones’ conviction was based largely on two pieces of evidence: the testimony of one of Jones’ co-defendants, Timothy Mark Jordan, and microscopic analysis of a small hair found on the store counter near Hilzendager’s body.

There were at least two problems with this evidence.

First, Jordan’s trial testimony conflicted with his grand jury testimony. During trial, Jordan claimed that Jones had confessed to him, but in front of the grand jury he said that a third co-defendant, Kerry Dixon, had fingered Jones as the shooter. Later, Jordan admitted in a signed affidavit that Jones had not confessed to him, and that he had been pressured to make this claim by police who threatened him with the death sentence. Jordan received a 10-year sentence for his cooperation.

Second, microscopic hair analysis is not conclusive. A 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences explains that “no scientifically accepted statistics exist about the frequency with which particular characteristics of hair are distributed in the population. There appears to be no uniform standards on the number of features on which hairs must agree before an examiner may declare a ‘match.'”

In other words, it’s impossible to say with scientific accuracy that one hair matches another, based on the way they appear under a microscope. Yet, this is exactly what the prosecution’s expert witness, chemist Stephen Robertson, claimed at Jones’ trial. Oddly, Robertson had earlier insisted the hair sample wasn’t suitable for making a comparison, and then, after the trial, he couldn’t explain why he had changed his mind.

After exhausting all other avenues of appeal, Jones sought DNA testing on the hair sample. But he was out of time, already on death-row. So he requested a stay of execution so testing could be performed. But then-Governor George Bush denied the stay, although he apparently didn’t realize Jones was requesting DNA testing. (Bush had, in the past, indicated a willingness to use DNA testing whenever possible.) The General Counsel who conveyed Jones’ request to Bush failed to mention that it was to allow time for the tests.

Now, ten years after Claude Jones was executed, the Innocence Project has managed to have that hair sample properly tested.

It was not Jones’.