Judge Orders Posthumous DNA Testing

Did the state execute an innocent man?

On June 11 state District Judge Paul Murphy ruled that the state of Texas must turn over biological evidence – that was set to be destroyed – for DNA testing that could determine whether the state executed an innocent man when it put to death Claude Jones in December 2000. Jones was executed for the 1990 murder of liquor store owner Allen Hilzendager. Jones had driven to the store with Danny Dixon, who'd been convicted of a previous murder and was then on parole; the state argued that Jones entered the store alone and shot Hilzendager three times. Among evidence was a single hair found on a counter in the store. Looking at the hair under a microscope, the state's expert said it "matched" Jones' hair, but the evidence was not subjected to DNA testing. Three years ago the New York-based Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas, the Texas Innocence Network, and The Texas Observer filed suit to get access to the hair in order to subject it to modern DNA testing. The state objected, but the ruling ordered the San Jacinto District Attorney's Office to save the evidence and turn it over for testing. According to the Innocence Project, this is the first time a Texas court has ordered posthumous DNA testing and could prove that the state wrongfully convicted and executed Jones for a crime he did not commit. "We have said all along that this case is about a search for the truth and the public's right to know," said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, in a press statement. "We hope the District Attorney's office will now work with us to find mutually agreeable experts to examine and test this evidence." Murphy's ruling gives the state 60 days to release the evidence and to find a "mutually agreeable" expert to do the analysis.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Claude Jones, Allen Hilzendager

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