By Ashley Paredez
ARIZONA (KNXV) — Barry Jones was released from prison Thursday after spending 29 years on death row. The first thing he did was reunite with his family.
“That’s a special moment and this weekend is Father’s Day and here’s a guy who couldn’t spend any of those Father’s Days with… you know, I mean, his oldest daughter was 12 when he went in, but his two sons were very young,” said Andrew Sowards, a retired investigator with the Federal Public Defender’s Office. He represented Jones for 11 years.
In 1995, Jones was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter from the year before. Jones claimed he had taken the child with him on a few trips that day.
“She returned to each, from each of those trips looking perfectly fine, according to all the testimony from all the witnesses. And so, to Barry at the time, it was a mystery. Yeah, he had no idea how this child had been hurt,” said Sowards.
By the time she was taken to the hospital, she had died of a ruptured intestine, which prosecutors said didn’t add up.
“The disease progression just was too far, and it had… I think one of our experts said it could have been up to a week old. I think the minimum was at least two days old,” said Sowards.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office released a statement on Thursday, saying the reexamination of evidence in the case did not prove Jones caused the girl’s blunt abdominal injury. Under an agreement, he pleaded to second-degree murder for failing to seek medical care for the girl. Although that charge came with a 25-year sentence, he was given credit for time already served and was consequently released.
“I have believed his innocence since I’ve known enough about this case to make a decision, and that’s been a long time,” says Sowards.
A grassroots organization, Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, tells us there have been 11 people exonerated from death row statewide, including Jones.
“It’s rare overall, like at a national standard, but thinking about Arizona statistics, it is unusually suspect that we have a double-digit number, considering we keep… we’ve kept about over 100 people on death row since the early 90s,” says Katie Jutras, a state advocacy director with Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona.
There are currently 110 prisoners in Arizona facing execution.
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