Superior Court ruling helps Arizona in death row cases

On July 6, 1995, Barry Jones, a Tucson mechanic, was sentenced to death.

Jones was convicted of the rape and murder of his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter, Rachel Gray, who died of a blow to the abdomen that went untreated. But over the next 20 years, when Jones appealed his conviction to court, the state’s case against him began to unravel.

After Jones’s attorneys uncovered potentially exonerating new evidence in the case, a federal judge ordered the state to give Jones a new trial or release him. It was a major break in his case.

Now, after a US Supreme Court ruling on Monday, the state has the green light to send Jones back to death row, despite the evidence in his favor.

The Supreme Court ruled on Jones’s case after the state of Arizona challenged appeals by Jones and another prisoner who believed he had poor trial lawyers, in a petition called Shinn v. Ramirez. The other death row inmate, David Ramirez, was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and his daughter in 1989. Ramirez, unlike Jones, challenged his conviction by presenting evidence of mental disability, not innocence.

Both had argued that their lawyers were ineffective, during the trial and then again when they appealed their cases after conviction. Both have requested that federal courts re-examine the evidence in their cases. In Jones’s case, a federal judge did so, ordering the state either release Jones or retry him.

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Despite the potentially exonerating evidence in his case, Barry Jones may still be executed.

Arizona Department of Corrections

The new judgment of the Supreme Court in Shinn v. Ramirez reverse that decision. For other potentially innocent convicts like Jones across the country, the new ruling closes a rare loophole that allowed them to present new evidence in their case if their initial attorneys were ineffective.

In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled Monday that federal judges cannot consider evidence in cases like Jones’s if the evidence was not first presented in state trial courts, even if that evidence is exonerating. . And even if it didn’t get introduced because incompetent lawyers didn’t think to look for it.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said phoenix new times that while the impacts of the ruling will be felt throughout the county, he believed the Supreme Court case was a “by-product of Arizona’s failure [death penalty] system.”

His organization is a nonpartisan research group that investigates the death penalty nationally.

“Arizona has consistently failed to provide meaningful representation to capital defendants,” Dunham said. The very fact that the Supreme Court was forced to deliberate what to do when inmates suffered from ineffective counsel during multiple stages of their cases was evidence of Arizona’s failings, she said.

Dale Baich, an adjunct professor at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law and a former public defender for the capital, agreed. “The real problem is that inmates are not always provided with a qualified, competent and well-resourced state attorney after conviction,” she said. “That is the cause of the problem.”

Baich also pointed out that prisoners face immense barriers when requesting a new federal review of the evidence in their cases. To prove that your lawyers are ineffective, under the law, you must meet a high standard. The standard requires evidence that his attorneys were “factually unreasonable” to the point of impairing judgment.

Furthermore, before a 2012 Supreme Court in an unrelated case that originated in Arizona, Jones could not have had a new hearing, no matter how bad his representation was.

in that 2012 Martinez vs. Ryan case, the high court ruled that prisoners could present new evidence in federal court if they were convicted in Arizona and other states, making it more difficult to claim ineffective counsel.

Now that “narrow window” is closed, Baich said.

“In the 1980s and early 1990s, the courts really began to limit the ability of death row inmates to get help in federal court,” Baich said. Due to statutory amendments and judicial interpretations, there are now “very limited exceptions that allow a federal court to review the merits of a claim,” she explained.

In 2017, an investigation by the interception brought national attention to the Jones case, which began in a trailer park on the southeastern outskirts of Tucson. The publication uncovered serious flaws in the state’s case against Jones. Among them: The state’s timeline, the lynchpin of the case, assumed the girl’s injuries had occurred the day before her death, when she was with Jones. But medical experts testified that the fatal injury, a blow to her abdomen, had been inflicted days earlier.

Due to faulty assumptions about the timeline, police immediately zeroed in on Jones as a suspect, ignoring other potential suspects who were in contact with Gray in his final days. the interception found.

Crucially, much of this evidence was not presented at Jones’ trial or in his early post-conviction appeals. Jones alleges this was due to the poor and incompetent attorney provided to him by the state.

Now, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, it appears that Jones will not get a new trial. He is headed back to death row, just as the state of Arizona is restarting executions after eight years. It is not clear when, or if, Jones will be executed. The Attorney General has not yet issued a death sentence for Jones, which would set an execution date for him.

The state, for its part, insists that Jones is guilty and has celebrated his victory in the Shinn v. Ramirez case this week.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich applauded the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement Monday. The ruling, Brnovich said, would shorten “endless delays” in capital cases. Those cases often remain on appeal for years, if not decades, forcing families who lost loved ones to repeat the crime, over and over again, through endless hearings.

According to Brnovich’s account, the appeals process, as it stood before the ruling, allowed “convicted murderers to evade responsibility for their heinous crimes.”

Brnovich’s statement went on to state that attorneys for death row inmates have devised a “procedural game scheme,” in which “evidence is intentionally withheld in state courts in order to achieve a lesser, more favorable sentence in the future.”

Dunham and Baich vehemently rejected this claim. “That is staggeringly untrue,” Dunham said. “A person who is innocent does not collude with his lawyers to stop presenting evidence of his innocence so that he can be convicted and possibly executed.”

“Prosecutors who do not care about due process have repeatedly mocked the appeals process as merely an attempt to delay,” Dunham said. That, he told her, “goes against his duty to do justice.”

Furthermore, even before this week’s Supreme Court ruling, it was very difficult for an inmate to get a new hearing in federal court on the merits of his case. Baich said he believes only “half a dozen or fewer” such evidentiary hearings have been held for death row inmates in Arizona over the last 10 years, including the Jones hearing, less than 10 percent of people who applied said hearing.

So far, it’s unclear what’s next for Jones. This month, Arizona executed Clarence Dixon, accused of raping and killing an Arizona State University student in 1978.

Frank Atwood, convicted of murdering an 8-year-old girl, is scheduled to die on June 8. It is still unknown who will follow. There are over a hundred people on death row in Arizona. Of those, 23, including Atwood, have exhausted their appeals, meaning the state could issue warrants for his death at any time.

Jones’s fate, once again, rests in the hands of the state.

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