HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas judge ordered that a hair that could exonerate a man executed for a 1989 murder be preserved for possible DNA testing, a legal reform group said on Monday.
Judge Elizabeth Coker in San Jacinto County north of Houston issued a restraining order against destruction of the hair and set an October 3 hearing to decide whether DNA tests should be performed, said the Innocence Project in a statement.
At issue is whether the hair belonged to Claude Jones, who was executed on December 7, 2000, for a November 1989 liquor store robbery and murder.
The hair was found on the liquor store counter and used by the prosecution to prove his guilt. An expert witness for the state said it was consistent with Jones’ hair, but it was not DNA tested.
The other primary evidence came from trial witness Timothy Jordan, who said Jones told him he committed the murder. But Jordan recanted his testimony in 2004.
The Innocence Project, which works to get wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing, the Texas Observer newspaper and other groups filed on Friday a motion requesting the preservation of the hair and that DNA testing be ordered.
San Jacinto prosecutors had not promised to save the hair, which has been kept with other exhibits from the trial, and said they would get DNA tests only if ordered to.
Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison said “DNA testing could show that Claude Jones was guilty, or it could show that the state had no basis for executing him.”
Texas leads the nation in executions with 403 conducted since 1982. It also leads in the number of people -- 29 since 1994 -- who have been exonerated through DNA testing, the Innocence Project said.
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