Arizona death row inmate released after 29 years behind bars

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona death row inmate whose convictions and death sentence in the 1994 death of a 4-year-old were thrown out was released from prison Thursday.

Barry Lee Jones had spent 29 years behind bars for murder, child abuse and sexual assault convictions in the death of his girlfriend’s daughter. A Pima County judge ordered the release of Jones after approving a deal between his defense team and prosecutors, who said a medical re-examination of the case didn’t support a finding that Jones caused the girl’s injury. Jones pleaded guilty to a lesser murder charge.

In early May 1994, Jones drove the child and her mother to a Tucson hospital, where the child was pronounced dead upon arrival. Her death was determined to have been caused by a small bowel laceration due to “blunt abdominal trauma.”

Authorities had previously alleged that Jones had beaten and sexually assaulted the girl.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office, which agreed that Jones’ first-degree murder conviction should be thrown out, said the evidence still supported a second-degree murder conviction because Jones, who was caring for the child at the time, had allowed her to die as a result of her injuries.

A federal judge called for Jones’ release in a July 2018 ruling, concluding Jones’ earlier lawyer had failed to adequately investigate whether the girl’s injuries were suffered during the time she was alone with Jones.

Experts had testified that the child may have been injured earlier. The judge’s ruling was upheld by an appeals court, though Jones remained in prison.

But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision a year ago, with Justice Clarence Thomas saying the federal courts are generally barred from taking in new evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel that could help prisoners.

With Jones still behind bars, his attorneys struck a deal with prosecutors for his release.

Under the agreement, once his convictions and death sentence were thrown out, Jones pleaded guilty to a second-degree murder charge in connection with his failure to seek medical care for the girl. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and will be given credit for time served.

“Mr. Jones spent nearly three decades on Arizona’s death row despite compelling evidence that he was innocent of charges that he had fatally assaulted” the girl, said Cary Sandman, Jones’s attorney, who said his client didn’t sexually assault the child.

Now that Jones’ death sentence has been thrown out, Arizona has 110 people people on its death row.

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