Innocent North Carolina Man Exonerated After 14 Years On Death Row
Levon "Bo" Jones Fifth Innocent Death Row Inmate Freed In Past 11 Months And 129th Since 1973
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KENANSVILLE, NC – An innocent man who spent 14 years on North Carolina's death row after being wrongfully convicted for a 1987 murder will be released from prison today. Jones has been represented by American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project lawyers Cassandra Stubbs and Brian Stull, along with North Carolina attorney Ernest "Buddy" Connor.
Levon "Bo" Jones, an African-American man who has always maintained his innocence, was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of Leamon Grady, a white man. Jones is the fifth innocent death row inmate to be exonerated in the United States in the past 11 months, and the third innocent North Carolina death row inmate to be granted release in the past six months. He is the 129th death row exoneree since 1973.
"We never had any doubt about Bo Jones' innocence," said Connor. "We knew when we started the case that there were serious holes in the evidence. After we began seriously investigating the case, it completely unraveled."
A federal judge ordered Jones off death row in 2006 and overturned his conviction, declaring that the defense provided by Jones' initial defense attorneys was so poor that they missed critical evidence pointing to his innocence. After keeping him imprisoned in anticipation of a retrial, the Duplin County, N.C. District Attorney announced Thursday that the state was dropping all charges and Jones would be released.
The sole witness accusing Jones of the murder, Lovely Lorden, admitted in an affidavit filed last month that she "was certain that Bo did not have anything to do with Mr. Grady's murder" and that she did not know what happened the night Grady was murdered. A new trial had been set to begin May 12.
Jones' exoneration and release comes two weeks after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Baze v. Rees upholding the three drug lethal injection method of capital punishment used in Kentucky. Other states have begun to lift a de facto national moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
"This case highlights the serious and rampant flaws inherent in the death penalty," Stubbs said. "A system that can't protect the innocent from conviction shouldn't gamble with life and death. This case – and those of the many other innocent exonerees – should give states pause about lifting moratoriums after the Baze decision."
Stull said there is a direct link between Jones' 14 years on death row and the quality of his first trial counsel.
"This case points out the problems with capital counsel in many parts of the country," he said. "Bo Jones's first trial lawyer never bothered to get the many conflicting statements of Lovely Lorden, let alone do the kind of investigation necessary in a first degree murder case. We will never know if Lorden would have admitted the truth earlier had the case been investigated and had she been adequately cross-examined."
Jones was represented in post-conviction by the North Carolina Center for Death Penalty Litigation, which persuaded the federal court to grant him a new trial.
Larry Lamb, a codefendant of Jones who has also always maintained his innocence, remains behind bars, serving a life sentence. Lamb turned down a plea offer of a six year sentence and was also convicted based on the testimony of Lorden. He plans to ask the newly formed North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission to review his case.