An Arizona Man Is Freed From Death Row After 29 Years In Prison

After nearly 29 years on death row, 64-year-old Barry Jones was freed to spend his first Father’s Day with his children in decades.

This undated booking photo provided by the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry shows Barry Lee Jones, who was released from prison in Arizona on Thursday, June 15, 2023.

Barry Lee Jones was released from prison in Arizona on Thursday, June 15, 2023 after his convictions and death sentence in the 1994 death of a 4-year-old girl were thrown out in a deal with prosecutors, who said a medical re-examination of the case didn’t support a finding that Jones caused the girl's injury.

Photo by: Associated Press

Associated Press

After serving nearly three decades in prison, Barry Lee Jones was freed and released from death row ahead of Father’s Day on June 15, 2023. Jones, now 64, had been sentenced to death in July 1995 for a crime he swears he didn’t commit: assaulting and killing Rachel Gray, the four-year-old daughter of his girlfriend, in 1994.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there was medical evidence at the time to show that it wasn’t Jones who caused Rachel’s injuries, yet that evidence was not discovered or utilized by his trial attorney or his state post-conviction attorney.

So, what happened to Rachel Gray? We know that, on May 2, 1994, the 4-year-old child died early in the morning. Jones took Rachel and her mother, Angela Gray, to the hospital, and the child was pronounced dead when they arrived. Rachel died from what court documents called “a small bowel laceration due to blunt abdominal trauma”. In other words, she had internal bleeding from a blow to her stomach.

Jones was arrested the day Rachel died, and his recent release is the first time he has known freedom since then. Angela Gray was also arrested that day, and she was later convicted of child abuse since she didn’t obtain earlier medical care that could have saved the little girl’s life. Angela served around eight years in prison.

Since Rachel was in Jones’s care that whole day before her death, the state theorized he was the only one who could have assaulted her. They brought the case to trial in April 1995. USA Today reported that Jones was found guilty of “first-degree murder, sex with a minor, endangerment, and causing physical harm to a minor”. The judge subsequently sentenced him to death.

However, USA Today shared how a subsequent investigation during the appeals process revealed that neighborhood boys had hit Rachel in her stomach with a metal bar a day or two before she died, and detectives think that is likely what caused the child’s fatal injury.

In 2018, federal court reviewed evidence that Jones’s state counsel had been ineffective because they didn’t present the medical evidence that contradicted the prosecution’s timeline and claims about Jones.

“Our new medical evidence established that that injury could have been three, four, five, days old, maybe even up to a week old,” Andrew Sowards, a retired investigator told 3TV/CBS 5. He also stated that evidence showed how some of Rachel’s injuries had healed at the time of her death, which supported the claim that Jones wasn’t the one who caused the injuries.

The Ninth Court of Appeals and the federal district court ruled that Jones was entitled to a new trial. However, PEOPLE reported that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Jones in 2022, stating that federal courts didn’t have the authority to review the case even though there was proof that Jones wasn’t guilty of the charges for which he was facing the death penalty.

So, with Jones still on death row, the Arizona Attorney General decided to overturn the conviction and reached out to Jones’s attorneys. After coming to an agreement, an Arizona Superior Court judge vacated Jones’s death sentence and overturned his conviction for child abuse, sexual assault, and felony murder, shared The New York Times.

Once Jones had his death penalty reversed and convictions thrown out, he pled guilty to a second-degree murder charge for not seeking medical care for Rachel even though she was in pain from her injuries. He was given a 25-year prison sentence that counted as the time he’d already served, and he was then released.

“Mr. Jones spent nearly three decades on Arizona’s death row despite compelling evidence that he was innocent of charges” that he had fatally assaulted Rachel, said Cary Sandman, the attorney for Barry Jones, reported NBC News. Sandman went on to say that Jones never sexually abused the child and didn’t kill her.

“It is an incredible feeling to be back in the arms of my family after 29 years. I am so grateful to my defense team, who never gave up on exposing the truth in my case, and to my family, who stood by me throughout this terrible ordeal,” Jones said in a statement.

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