Richard Jones

Tarrant County, Texas
Date of Crime:  February 19, 1986
Executed August 22, 2000

Richard Wayne Jones was convicted of the abduction and murder of Tammy Livingston. Around 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 19, 1986 witnesses Ruthie Amato and her two daughters watched as Livingston was abducted from a Michael's store parking lot in Hurst, Texas. Between 9:20 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. the same night, a witness named Robert Speights heard screams coming from a field at 4600 Randol Mill Road in Fort Worth. At 11:20 p.m. a fire was reported in the field. When police responded they found Livingston's body. She had been stabbed 19 times.

The next day Jones' pregnant girlfriend, 19-year-old Yelena Comalander, was arrested trying to cash checks belonging to Livingston. Under interrogation, Comalander said she had obtained the checks from Jones. She signed two statements, but later said police changed her verbal statements when they wrote them down. Jones was arrested that evening and confessed to killing Livingston after 12 hours of interrogation and 21 hours of detention without food or sleep. Police told him Comalander would be executed and their child would be taken by the state unless he confessed. Police Detective Larry Steffler acknowledged making this statement to Jones at trial. However, the following day he recanted, saying he had not paid attention to the question.

The times given by witnesses are inconsistent with Jones' confession. In the confession he said he drove Livingston directly from the parking lot to the field, killed her, and set fire to the field soon afterward. The field was only minutes away from the parking lot. The witnesses placed the events of the crime as occurring over a period of four hours. Jones' trial jury never heard the time-critical errors in his confession.

Ruthie Amato and her daughters described Livingston's abductor as a clean shaven white male with reddish-brown hair. Jones had blond hair, a mustache, and a gray plaid shirt. Despite her description, Amato picked Jones from a line-up, though her teenage daughters did not. The failure of the daughters to identify Jones was omitted from the police report. One of the daughters joined her mother in identifying Jones at trial, although the other daughter was not questioned at trial. The trial jury did not learn that Amato was on probation and that her probation could be revoked at the prosecution's discretion.

At trial Jones claimed his confession was coerced. He said that when he arrived home from work on the night of the crime, his sister Brenda Jones Ashmore asked for his help. Jones had an I.Q. of 75 and was uniquely devoted to his sister because she had been his sole ally and confidante in the violently abusive household in which he was raised. According to Jones, Ashmore said she and her boyfriend Walt Sellers had killed two people. Sellers confirmed this account to Jones. He said he needed help to bury the victims' bodies. He sold Jones Livingston's credit cards, checks, and car on condition that he help destroy the crime scene. He showed Jones the location of her body. Jones said he doused the area of the body with gasoline and set it on fire. Two tiny spots of blood were found on the left leg of Jones' jeans, which matched Livingston's blood type. The spots were consistent with Jones having contact with field grass that was splattered with her blood. They were inconsistent with him inflicting 19 stab wounds on Livingston. Jones' fingerprints were also found in her car.

Sellers had prior convictions for stealing the same kind of property as that of Livingston. Police never investigated him as a suspect. They arrested Sellers one month after the murder with a dagger in his possession but destroyed the dagger without subjecting it to forensic testing. Police also found a knife belonging to Jones but never established that it was used in the killing.

Besides Jones, six other witnesses implicated Sellers as the killer. Comalander told the grand jury that Jones obtained the victim's possessions from Sellers and that she went with Jones to set fire to the field. At trial she pled the fifth amendment as the initial statements she signed under coercion had implicated Jones in the murder and the prosecution could charge her with perjury. The defense asked that she be granted immunity from prosecution, but the state and the court refused.

A second witness, Scott Christian, told the grand jury that Sellers tried to sell him credit cards and checks and that he “had blood splatters on his T-shirt, and on his hands and forearms.” Christian also said that Jones and Ashmore arrived while he was speaking with Sellers and that after he declined Sellers offer, Jones purchased the items. Christian pled the fifth amendment at trial as he faced being charged as a drug dealer if he testified. A third witness, James Richard King, told the grand jury that he saw Sellers in a bloody shirt wanting to sell him checks. King disappeared before trial. A fourth witness, Douglas Wayne Daffern, saw Sellers with credit cards and checks in Livingston's name. Daffern also disappeared before trial. In lieu of live witnesses, the defense attempted to introduce the grand jury testimony of Comalander, Christian, King and Daffern. They had already been cross-examined by the same prosecutor who was trying Jones. However the state objected and the court stood by the state.

After Jones' conviction, a fifth witness, Terry Gravelle, gave a sworn statement that he had a jailhouse conversation with Sellers in which Sellers told him Jones was innocent and chuckled about his conviction. Sellers said “there was a problem using the stolen checks and cards,” so he gave them to Jones. A sixth witness, Robert Dean Miller, also swore to a similar post-conviction conversation with Sellers.

Jones' trial attorney represented him in early appeals. However, a subsequent appeal attorney tried to challenge the original attorney's performance at trial. The original attorney then sided with the state and filed an affidavit so unbelievable that the Fifth Circuit court remarked that it was impossible to reconcile the original attorney's claims with the undisputed facts of the trial record.

Much of the evidence from the crime scene and the victim's car was never subjected to forensic testing, not even the limited testing available in 1986. Crime lab documents show that a number of planned tests were foregone on the direct orders of the detective who had obtained Jones' confession. DNA testing of the evidence was eventually requested, but was denied by the courts and by Lt. Gov. Rick Perry. Gov. George W. Bush was away, campaigning for President.

Jones was executed by lethal injection on Aug 22, 2000. His last words were “I want the victim's family to know that I didn't commit this crime. I didn't kill your loved one. Sharon Wilson, y'all convicted an innocent man and you know it. There are some lawyers hired that are gonna prove that, and I hope you can live with it. To my family and loved ones, I love you. Thank you for supporting me. Y'all stay strong. Warden, bring it on ...”  [3/11]


References:  Skeptical Juror, Texas Defender Service, Jones v. State, Jones v. Johnson, DNA Memo, Webpage

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Northeast Texas Cases, Timeline Discrepancies, Inconsistent Confessions, Defendants Executed by Texas