Joe C. Jones (Topeka, Kansas)
Factual background.Early in the morning of August 24, 1985, three women left a nightclub and sat talking in their cars. A man came between the two cars and ordered a woman out of one of them. He then got into the car with the victim and ordered her to drive away. After driving to a different section of town, the assailant asked the woman for her name and address. She supplied him with a phony name and number; then the assailant raped her.
Joe Jones was convicted of rape, aggravated kidnaping, and aggravated assault on February 13, 1986, by a Shawnee County jury. He was given a life sentence for the kidnaping charge, with lesser concurrent sentences for the other charges.
Prosecutor’s evidence at trial
The prosecution based its case on several points:
• The two witnesses identified Jones as the man at the nightclub.
• The victim picked out a different man in a photo lineup but identified
Jones when she saw him face-to-face.
• Jones was a member of the same club and had actually been there the
night of the incident.
• The police found a pair of jeans that resembled those of the assailant in
In Jones’ defense, a market employee testified that Jones was in his store at the time of the attack and was wearing different clothing.
Postconviction challenges. An initial appeal by Jones was not disposed of before he combined that appeal with a motion of remand on February 2, 1987, with the Kansas Supreme Court. This latter motion asked for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence and ineffective counsel at trial.
The new evidence consisted of the following: another man who was later convicted of sexual assaults with identical modus operandi; expert witnesses who would testify that identifying Jones was unconscious transference on the part of the witnesses because they had seen him earlier in the evening and the identification was also weak because it was cross-racial; and a psychological exam showed that Jones did not have the capability to commit a violent act such as rape.
On February 13, 1987, the Kansas Supreme Court granted the motion for remand, but only in considering the evidence that the other man may have committed the crime. A hearing was held in which the other man denied any involvement with the crime, and the prosecution presented evidence that the other man’s photograph was shown to the witnesses and they did not identify him as the assailant. The court denied the motion for a new trial.
Jones’ attorney filed another appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court on the grounds that the defendant’s homosexuality was not allowed as evidence at the trial, that the trial court refused to admit evidence about the other man, and that his client’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated when the court limited the scope of his original remand. This motion was denied on March 3, 1989. Two years later, in 1991, the prosecution agreed to release evidence to the defense for DNA testing.
DNA results. The samples and evidence were sent to Cellmark Diagnostics for DNA testing, but Cellmark was unable to get any readings from the evidence in the rape kit. Cellmark recommended Forensic Science Associates (FSA) as a laboratory that might be able to analyze the vaginal swab. The evidence was sent to FSA, which determined, in a report dated October 25, 1991, that the semen on the vaginal swab could not have come from Jones (see appendix for results).
FSA was asked to retype Jones’ blood, and on April 13, 1992, FSA said that it had replicated its findings and Jones could not have supplied the semen on the vaginal swab.
Conclusion. On December 18, 1991, the defense submitted a motion for a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence. On July 17, 1992, a judge ruled that the DNA evidence was admissible. The court vacated Jones’ conviction and ordered a new trial. The prosecution immediately stated it would not refile charges, and Jones was released that day. Jones served 6 1/2 years of his sentence.
This case profile is excerpted from Convicted by Juries, Exonerated by Science: Case Studies in the Use of DNA Evidence to Establish Innocence After Trial, a 1996 research report by the U.S. Department of Justice.