DALLAS (Reuters) - Activists asked a Texas judge on Friday to stop local officials from destroying a hair they say could exonerate a man executed for murder in 2000 when President George W. Bush was governor of the state.
The groups also requested that DNA tests on the hair be ordered to determine if it came from Claude Jones, who was put to death in December 2000 for a 1989 murder.
The hair was the only physical evidence in the case against him and was never tested, although a prosecution witness testified it was consistent with Jones’ hair.
Friday’s legal motion was filed in San Jacinto County, 70 miles north of Houston, by the Innocence Project, The Texas Observer newspaper and other groups.
“The hair, which was found on the counter in a liquor store where a man was shot and killed, was central in Jones’ trial and post-conviction appeals,” the Innocence Project, which has helped overturn many wrongful convictions through DNA testing, said in a statement.
The hair, now in possession of the San Jacinto County district clerk, was ordered destroyed years ago along with other exhibits from the trial but apparently was preserved by accident, said Innocence Project spokesman Eric Ferrero.
The other key evidence against Jones was testimony by Timothy Jordan, who said Jones told him he committed the murder. But in 2004 he recanted his testimony.
“Claude Jones was convicted based on the hair evidence and testimony from Timothy Jordan. ... DNA testing on the hair could definitely show whether or not Claude Jones was guilty,” said Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project lawyer.
The Innocence Project said attorneys had sought a stay of Jones’ execution in the courts and from Bush, asking for time to perform DNA tests, but the request was denied.
“Documents later obtained by the Innocence Project ... show that Governor Bush’s staff did not include the possibility of DNA testing in the material they prepared for him about the request for a stay of execution,” it said.
Texas is America’s most active capital punishment state with 403 executions since 1982. But it also leads the nation in the number of people — 29 since 1994 — who have been exonerated through DNA testing after being wrongfully convicted, according to the Innocence Project.
No court of law has ever proven to date that an innocent person has actually been executed in the United States since the Supreme Court lifted a ban on the death penalty in 1976. But several inmates on death row have been exonerated.