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Freed at 62: Death Row Inmate’s 28-Year Wait for Retrial Ends on Father’s Day

Barry Lee Jones Spends Father’s Day with Family, Celebrates Long-Awaited Freedom

For the first time in nearly 30 years, Barry Lee Jones was free to spend Father’s Day with his family, something he feared would never happen again in his lifetime. The 64-year-old Jones was originally a death row inmate in Arizona. After nearly 28 years in prison, he finally regained his freedom on the 15th.

Wrongful Conviction Overturned

Jones had pleaded not guilty until a judge recently overturned charges against Jones in 1994 when he was found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter, Rachel Yvonne Gray. The federal public defender pointed out that due to the failure of court-appointed and state-appointed defense attorneys during the criminal trial and appeal process that year, Jones was wrongly convicted.

New Agreement and Plea

According to an agreement reached between Jones and prosecutors, the murder charge and the death sentence were both dropped, and Jones pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges because he did not take an unresponsive Rachel to the hospital the night before her death. Jones was later resentenced on a lesser charge and was released after serving his sentence.

Justice Prevails

Federal public defender Cary Sandman, who defended Jones’ case for more than 20 years, hailed Jones’ release as a victory for justice. The dedicated legal team worked tirelessly to uncover evidence supporting Jones’ innocence and shed light on the shortcomings of the original trial.

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Timeline of Events

In May 1994, Angela Gray found her daughter Rachel unresponsive and rushed her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead upon arrival. Jones, who lived with Angela and her four children, was interrogated for five hours before being charged with sexual assault and murder. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death in July 1995.

Appeal and Discovery of New Evidence

During the appeal process, the case fell into the hands of federal public defenders who uncovered crucial evidence from the coroner suggesting that Rachel’s fatal injuries could not have occurred during the brief time prosecutors alleged Jones was alone with the child. Furthermore, it was revealed that neither the detectives who investigated the case nor the previous defense lawyers had explored other potential suspects.

Legal Breakthrough and Supreme Court Involvement

In 2017, lawyers stumbled upon an unrelated 2012 Supreme Court decision that became a lifeline for Jones. Through a negligence claim against his own attorneys, the case was transferred to federal court. Subsequently, in 2018 and 2019, two federal courts successively ruled that Jones’ murder charges should be withdrawn, leading to a retrial. The Arizona court appealed, and ultimately, the case reached the Federal Supreme Court.

Limited Options but Hope

While a 2022 Supreme Court ruling severely limited Jones’ avenues for seeking a new trial, it did not affect the agreement by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to independently re-examine the case. This re-evaluation eventually led to the cancellation of Jones’ death sentence and paved the way for his release.

Barry Lee Jones’ story serves as a stark reminder of the importance of a fair and thorough legal process. After enduring nearly three decades behind bars for a crime he did not commit, Jones can finally rebuild his life and cherish the moments he thought he would never experience again.

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