State

Man's execution questioned by Innocence Project

Friday, November 12, 2010

A single strand of hair -- it's the one piece of evidence that may have sent an innocent man to his death.

Claude Jones was no angel. In fact, he was a career criminal. But he always said he never killed a man during a liquor store robbery, and he may have been telling the truth.

The testing was done in June and it's the result of a lawsuit filed by the Innocence Project. But the DNA results are considered irrelevant by the Cold Springs family of the victim Jones is convicted of killing. The family says they're just as certain as they were 21 years ago during Jones' criminal trial that he murdered their brother.

The Hilzendager family remains steadfast in their opinion.

"I believe Mr. Jones murdered my brother," Joe Hilzendager said. "He shot him in the back and then shot him twice in the front. Yes, I think he is a cold-blooded murderer."

The brothers and sister of Allen Hilzendager witnessed the 2000 execution of Jones. The family now is reacting to released results of a recent DNA test performed at the request of the Innocence Project. Co-founder Barry Scheck saying the tests do not offer conclusive proof of Jones' innocence but rather raises questions about the conviction.

"We can't say this proves Claude Jones was definitely innocent," Scheck said. "All it proves is that he never should have been convicted or executed. I think that in and of itself is pretty significant, and it's only a cynical view that would say this is not important."

The DNA test was of a hair fragment found at the scene of the crime used in Jones' original trial. At the time, it was said to have matched Jones' DNA. However, new DNA testing says the Innocence Project shows the hair was not Jones'. It is information that could have save his life, says Scheck.

"I can tell you with great certainty that if President Bush had been told what the purpose of this DNA test was, he would have granted that stay," Scheck said.

Legal maneuvering, the victim's sister says, doesn't change her belief Jones murdered her brother.

"The big evidence was the person seeing him, and then he had on clothing when he killed my brother -- a hooded jacket," said Gayle Currie, Allen Hilzendager's sister.

It's clothing that an eyewitness claimed to have seen Jones wearing during the murder and in other crimes he committed.

Regardless, it's too late to help Jones' case. However, his son, Duane Jones, hopes this case will become a catalyst for change.

"The true closure will be when the justice system is improved and brought into the 21st century and takes advantage of all the recognized science and information, technology and all the different things," Duane said. "The way that the system works now is archaic."

That sentiment echoes what Scheck said about the criminal justice system in the state of Texas. He leveled some harsh criticisms this morning and talked about some of the changes he would like to see made.

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texas, execution, state, cynthia cisneros
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