After DNA Test, Murder Convict Seeks New Trial
by Thomas MacMillan | Jul 18, 2013 8:07 am
Posted to: Legal Writes, The Hill
After two trials and more than two decades, Melvin Jones maintains that he didn’t shoot and kill a 28-year-old man on Howard Avenue—and that he now has the DNA evidence to prove it.
Jones, who’s 55 years old and serving a life sentence in prison, earlier this month filed a petition for a new trial. Jones has been imprisoned since 1990, when he was arrested for the murder of Wayne Curtis, a 28-year-old Middletown man who was shot in his car in the Hill.
Jones’ petition states that new DNA tests indicate he wasn’t wearing a coat that cops found near the scene of the crime, a key piece of evidence in the subsequent trial. The petition further states that DNA testing also shows that hairs found in Curtis’ car didn’t come from Jones either.
State’s Attorney Michael Dearington said he hasn’t yet responded to the petition. Click here to read it.
“If it was obviously apparent that his claim has sufficient merit to warrant a new trial, then the state would agree to it,” Dearington said. “But in the alternative, if that’s not true, then obviously we will object to it. ... In this particular claim, without reviewing the evidence I’m unable to draw any conclusions.”
Dearington said either he or another attorney will review the petition and respond.
Jones is represented by public defender Beth Merkin, who represented Ray Clark, the Yale lab staffer who pleaded guilty to killing graduate student Annie Le. Merkin declined to comment on the petition for a new trial.
If Jones’ petition is successful, it would set up the third time that he would be tried for killing Curtis.
He was first convicted in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1994, Jones petitioned for a new trial when a new witness came forward with evidence that Jones didn’t kill Curtis. With the help of attorney John Williams, Jones won a new trial, but then decided to represent himself, over his mother’s objections. He lost the case and was again sentenced to life in prison.
“I always thought he was innocent,” said Williams. “Most unbiased people who look at that case thought he was innocent.”
Williams said he doesn’t know why Jones decided to represent himself in the second trial. “It was a suicidal gesture. I was representing him for nothing.”
Asked about the latest development, Williams said DNA tests are “huge evidence.”
“It’s incredible,” he said. “Long overdue.”
Jones had previously served 15 years in prison for the murder of Yale student Gary Stein in 1974, when Jones was a teenager. After his release in 1989, Jones was “deeply involved in the community, doing cable television shows encouraging people to stop using drugs, and taking classes at a community college,” according to the Hartford Courant.
Check The Coat Collar
Here’s how the Curtis murder case unfolded, according to the petition for a new trial:
Curtis was killed on Oct. 17, 1990 near the corner of Howard Avenue and Lamberton Street in the Hill. He was seen sitting in a parked car, arguing with a man with braids wearing a “camouflage-style jacket,” a man who then shot and killed him.
No eyewitness could identify the shooter, and no forensic evidence connected Jones to the crime. Nor did the state present a motive for why Jones allegedly shot Curtis.
The prosecution relied on witnesses who said Jones had braids and often wore a camouflage jacket. The prosecution also had a camouflage jacket, recovered from a Dumpster two blocks from the homicide, and a woman who said she saw Jones drop the jacket there. In the pocket of the jacket was a work order for a wheel alignment of Curtis’ car.
When Jones was arrested at his house three days later, he was wearing a camouflage jacket.
Based on those facts, Jones was twice found guilty of the crime.
In 2007, Jones, representing himself, filed a motion requesting a public defender to help him with DNA testing. DNA tests were done on the cuff and collar areas of the jacket found in the Dumpster. The tests showed that both areas contained a mixture of genetic material, none of which came from Jones or Curtis.
“This DNA evidence—which could have established that Mr. Jones did not wear and/or have contact with the dumpster jacket at the time of the shooting—is highly exculpatory, particularly in light of how much evidentiary significance that exhibit was given throughout the prosecution’s case,” the petition states.
The petition goes on to describe DNA testing of hairs found inside Curtis’ car, tests which were either inconclusive or found that none of the hairs came from Jones.
“The jury verdict resulted in Mr. Jones suffering injustice,” the petition concludes. “Therefore, since the verdict and judgment against Mr. Jones are unjust and his imprisonment is illegal, reasonable cause exists for a new trial.”