Finding that “justice may not have been done,” a Suffolk County Superior Court has vacated the 1976 murder and armed robbery convictions of Boston College Innocence Program (BCIP) client Milton Jones.
BCIP Director Sharon Beckman, Supervising Attorney Charlotte Whitmore, and their BC Law and undergraduate students have represented Jones pro bono since 2017. He is the fourth BCIP client whose murder conviction has been vacated in the past three years.
Jones’ convictions arose from an armed robbery committed by two men at a Roxbury bar in 1975, during which the owner Albert Dunn was killed. No physical evidence tied Jones to the crime. Jones was convicted solely on the basis of eyewitness identification testimony that he was one of the two perpetrators. No one else was charged or convicted of the crime.
In his November 10 ruling vacating Jones’ convictions, Judge Michael J. Ricciuti found that advances in the science of eyewitness memory and identification, coupled with the use in Jones’ case of “procedures that were plainly suggestive,” raised a “real question” about the reliability of the eyewitness testimony.
Among other factors, the court found that the eyewitnesses’ descriptions were inconsistent and changed over time; that police subjected the witnesses to multiple suggestive identification procedures, including a police-led group discussion and a highly suggestive in-court identification process; and that two of the identifications were cross-racial. The trial prosecutor’s failure to disclose information that would have aided Jones’ pretrial investigation and defense was also “deeply troubling” to the court.
Jones, who has always maintained his innocence, served more than 15 years of his mandatory life sentence for second degree murder before being paroled. Even though he could not accept responsibility for a crime he did not commit, the parole board members were unanimous in their decision to grant him parole. Jones has since served over a quarter century on lifetime parole.
Now 70, Jones is the director of Re-entry Services at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, where he has worked for over 15 years. The institute serves Greater Boston as a homicide response center, with a mission of healing, teaching, and learning for families and communities impacted by murder, trauma, grief, and loss.
In addition to Beckman and Whitmore, Hana Sahdev ’17, Nicholas Anastasi, ’17, Veronika Waldinger, ’21, Chinyere Okogeri ’21, and Jesslin Wooliver ’21 all contributed significantly to Jones’ representation while students at BC Law. Undergraduate intern Robert Cerise assisted in BCIP’s reinvestigation of Jones’ case.
BCIP filed a motion seeking postconviction relief for Jones in August 2020 citing advances in scientific research demonstrating that the eyewitness testimony the jury heard at Jones’ 1976 trial was unreliable. BCIP supported this motion with the affidavit of eyewitness identification experts Miko M. Wilford and Nancy Franklin. BCIP’s motion further alleged that materials provided to BCIP by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office in 2019 demonstrated that the trial prosecutor had failed to reveal to Jones’ defense attorney information that one of the two perpetrators was called “Larry” and could not therefore be Milton Jones.
After conducting its own lengthy postconviction investigation, in April 2021, the Commonwealth, through the Suffolk County District Attorney’s, Integrity Review Bureau, filed a response assenting to BCIP’s motion to vacate Jones’ convictions. The Commonwealth agreed with BCIP that the eyewitness identifications were unreliable, that the previously undisclosed evidence was material and would have helped the defense, and that justice was not done in this case.
The November 10 order vacating Jones’ convictions followed additional rounds of postconviction briefing and hearings ordered by Judge Ricciuti over the past year and a half. The Commonwealth is expected to dismiss all charges against Jones, according to the court.
“We are thrilled that Mr. Jones finally has the long-awaited justice that he deserves,” said Whitmore. Professor Beckman added, “Mr. Jones has survived 45 years of injustice. During that time he has supported many individuals and families recovering from trauma and loss. With his wrongful convictions vacated, now his own healing process can begin.”
Read more in the Boston Globe.
(Update: On December 12, Suffolk County District Attorney’s office filed a nolle prosequi dismissing all charges against Milton Jones, making this BCIP’s fourth exoneration in just over two years.)