In an important new ruling, Darrell Jones, who was convicted 30 years ago of a murder that he did not commit, has had his conviction vacated by Plymouth County Superior Court Judge Thomas F. McGuire, Jr. BC Law’s Innocence Program students played a major role in the fight for justice for Jones, working closely with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Innocence Program on his case. Jones is now free on bail, pending prosecutors’ appeal or a decision on a new trial.
Jones was represented by John J. Barter, Lisa Kavanaugh (director of the CPCS Innocence Program), and Anthony Mirenda and Neil Austin of Foley Hoag, LLP. The BC Innocence Program has partnered with the CPCS Innocence Program since 2015. It was in that capacity that students Cooper Jones ’17 and Eva Rasho ’18 assisted in preparing for the post-conviction evidentiary hearing. The victory in Jones’ case–a first for BC Law Innocence Clinic students–follows other recent high profile successes through BC Law’s related Innocence Program externship, such as the Fred Clay case, where externship students assisted in vacating the conviction of a man wrongly imprisoned for 38 years.
Jones was convicted of murder when he was only 19 years-old based on faulty eyewitness testimony and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. There was no physical evidence used to convict him, and none of the eyewitnesses who testified at trial were sure that Jones was the shooter. An all-white jury convicted Jones after three days of deliberations. He has maintained his innocence ever since.
New evidence surfaced in recent years that further demonstrated Jones’ innocence, including evidence that police deliberately tampered with a video of a key witness that was used at trial. Forensic experts conclusively determined that as much as 136 seconds of the tape were deliberately removed in order to hide portions of the testimony from the jury that were favorable to Jones. In addition, a juror testified at the post-conviction hearing that two other jurors told her that they thought Jones was guilty because he was black. Judge McGuire found that this racial bias and police misconduct prevented Jones from receiving a fair trial.
BC Law Clinic students Rasho and Jones (no relation) became involved in the case in the fall of 2016 when Jones’ attorneys were preparing for his post-conviction hearing. Rasho, Jones, and Clinic Supervisor Professor Charlotte Whitmore visited Jones in prison multiple times, investigated witnesses on his behalf, and helped prepare the experts to testify. “Darrell showed me what an asset a client can be when constructing a case,” Rasho said. “Darrell has always been his own greatest advocate, and it’s humbling to work with someone who has endured so much, and is still so committed to uncovering the truth.”
“Meeting Darrell and getting to look at the evidence and see how he was clearly innocent was such an eye-opening experience,” said Jones. “Growing up wanting to be a lawyer, I had heard about stories of people wrongfully convicted of murder, but I never thought I would ever have a client to which this happened. Darrell is such a strong, courageous man. He always maintained his innocence and never gave up fighting. I am so relieved to see that, after all these years, he will finally get a chance to clear his name and regain the freedom he absolutely deserves.”
“I am absolutely thrilled for Mr. Jones and proud that BC Innocence Clinic students played a vital role in vacating his conviction,” Whitmore said. “Eva and Cooper were integral team members in the fight for justice for Darrell Jones. They demonstrated impressive dedication and hard work in preparing for the post-conviction hearing. I am so thankful for our partnership with the CPCS Innocence Program because it enables our students to contribute to cases like Mr. Jones.”
BC Law Professor Fr. Francis Herrmann originally referred Jones’ case to the CPCS Innocence Program five years ago. Father Hermann heard about the case through a prison chaplain and was appalled by the scarcity of the evidence used to convict Jones. He called Lisa Kavanaugh at CPCS, upon the advice of BC Innocence Program Director Sharon Beckman, and Ms. Kavanaugh began looking into the case.