A 74-year-old black man scheduled to be executed in Georgia on Wednesday has been granted another clemency hearing – this time with a federal judge – and his lawyers have been granted permission to request DNA testing in his case.
Julius Jones and his lawyers say they are asking the court to order new DNA testing, based on recent admissions by witnesses who initially said Jones was at the scene of the 1987 killing of a white woman.
On March 28, a judge ordered a hearing on Jones’s request for a stay of execution. At that hearing, testimony from Jarrell Jones, who said he was at the scene and acknowledged for the first time that he saw a man wearing a red shirt and holding a revolver. Also testifying that day was the sister of Dawn Mary Talty, who said she saw Jones at the scene of the crime, according to court documents.
“In March 2019, all evidence was re-examined, and new information has been discovered which points to a different perpetrator from the photograph. It is the prosecutor’s opinion that Jones is in fact the real perpetrator and that our continued investigation would lead to a serious miscarriage of justice if he is executed. Mr. Jones’s right to life has been further violated because of defendants’ recent admissions,” attorneys with Fordham Law’s Death Penalty Clinic wrote in an April 2 letter to the court.
“The new information confirms Mr. Jones’ alibi at the scene, which led to his acquittal in a 2007 trial, and further damages Mr. Jones’ conviction. In light of the new evidence, this Court should grant a new hearing to determine whether he is the real perpetrator,” the lawyers wrote.
Georgia Department of Corrections officials immediately filed a motion to preclude the new DNA testing, citing concerns about protecting witnesses. But Jones’s lawyers say they will ask the court to reconsider and will submit an appeal.
Dawn Talty, 32, was killed in her father’s Atlanta condominium. Three witnesses said a black man dressed in red was heard saying, “Leave her, leave her, leave her,” and shot Talty.
But Jones said he had traveled to Atlanta for a children’s symposium, and that his key witnesses had never taken the required oath to remain silent under oath and have the truth heard.
With the authorization of prosecutors, Jones asked his three key witnesses to take an oath and state, in court, they had a “reasonable belief” that the shooter was Jones. The witnesses appeared before the judge and asked to take the oath. Both the district attorney and the defense attorney at the hearing both asked that the oath be signed because they felt it would help the case against Jones.
The district attorney later questioned the witnesses “on the record” and testified that the oath should not be taken in a court proceeding because of how the prosecution would be holding it.
Jones’s lawyers claimed that if the court did not allow the DNA testing, they would ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to hold a hearing and postpone Jones’s execution.
A longtime death penalty opponent, Jones was convicted of first-degree murder in Talty’s death. The law allowing inmates to introduce post-conviction DNA evidence was modified after Jones’s 2000 trial, with the lawyers now having to prove a “substantial likelihood” of winning at trial.
Jones was sentenced to death and the date of execution has long been scheduled, but the date had never been official.
Jones’s clemency hearing was set for Wednesday, but according to Jones’s lawyers, that has now been postponed until May 29 because of a letter that another judge in the case sent to attorneys on Jones’s behalf. The state Department of Corrections initially requested a May 29 execution date, but Jones’s attorneys requested May 25.