GIST: "Since the day of his arrest in 1994, Barry Lee Jones has insisted he did not rape or kill his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter, Rachel Yvonne Gray. Jailed on the same day the child’s lifeless body arrived at a Tucson hospital, Jones admitted she’d been injured on his watch, repeatedly saying she had fallen from his parked yellow work van the day before, hitting her head. Jones said Rachel told him a little boy had pushed her out. But even if it was true, that did not explain the bruises covering her body, or the abdominal injury that took her life. Almost no physical evidence linked Jones to Rachel’s injuries — and there was nothing to show he was guilty of rape. But when children die under mysterious circumstances, early suspicion typically falls on the adults who were closest to them in their final hours. On that day, witnesses said, that person was Jones. He and Rachel’s mother, Angela Gray, were tried back to back in 1995; Gray was convicted of child abuse but acquitted of murder. Jones was sentenced to die. After more than 20 years insisting upon his innocence, Jones won a rare evidentiary hearing from a U.S. district judge, set to begin October 30. Attorneys with the Arizona Federal Public Defender’s Office plan to argue that Jones’s trial was fundamentally unfair, marred by ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Moreover, they say, bad lawyering at the post-conviction level left the trial attorneys’ failures unaddressed, resulting in a horrible miscarriage of justice. If his lawyers succeed, Jones could win a new trial — or even be released from prison. Poor defense representation and a lack of physical evidence are both hallmarks of wrongful convictions. The files in Jones’s case reveal many more. They show a rush to judgment, tunnel vision by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, and a shifting theory of the crime by the state. Prosecutors relied on the most dubious kinds of evidence, from flawed forensics to the eyewitness accounts of young children. Vital pieces of evidence were lost, concealed, or never collected to begin with. More recently, DNA testing on one key item has failed to implicate Jones. In a state where eight people have been exonerated from death row, Arizona prosecutors have fought against reopening Jones’s case, even as the basis for his conviction has fallen apart. As his defense attorneys argue, “Jones was convicted based on a very specific timeline, which was grounded on a single factual premise: that Rachel was fatally injured and sexually assaulted while she was alone with Jones on portions of Sunday, May 1, 1994.” The total time frame was no longer than four hours, during which Jones was seen taking the child on short trips in his van. But several medical experts hired by defense attorneys have concluded that Rachel’s fatal injury could not possibly have occurred within the narrow window presented by the state. More significant still, in a recent letter to Jones’s lawyers, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office conceded that the current Pima County medical examiner “did not dispute the conclusions of your experts.” And the forensic pathologist who took the stand against Jones in 1995 has acknowledged that his testimony was flawed. Jones’s attorneys are certain that if the case were tried again, “no juror acting reasonably would ever find Jones guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” For his part, Jones admits he was no upstanding citizen before he went to prison. But he did not kill Rachel Gray. “I was guilty of a lifestyle,” Jones told me. “I was a thief. I was a dope fiend. … I wasn’t looking out for nobody but myself. And I hold myself responsible, because she died under my roof, on my watch. … I blame myself every day for that.”...(Read on: HL):

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