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DNA evidence calls another execution into question and spotlights flaws in Texas’ death-penalty system. CLAUDE JONES ALWAYS SAID HE WASN’T the man who walked into an East Texas liquor store in 1989 and shot the owner. He professed his innocence up to the moment he was strapped to a gurney in the Texas execution chamber and put to death on Dec. 7, 2000. His murder conviction was based on a single piece of forensic evidence a strand of hairrecovered from the crime scene. Prosecutors claimed it belonged to Jones. DNA tests completed in early November at the request of the Observer and the New York-based Innocence Projectafter a three-year court battle show the hair didn’t belong to Jones. The day before his death, Jones asked for a stay of execution so the strand of hair could be submitted for DNA testing. He was denied by thenGov. George W. Bush. A decade later, the results of DNA testing not only undermine the evidence that convicted Jones, but raise the possibility that Texas executed an innocent man. The DNA testsconducted by Mitotyping Technologies, a private lab in State College, Pa., and first reported online by the Observer on Nov. 11show the hair belonged to the victim of the shooting, Allen Hilzendager, the 44-year-old owner of the liquor store. Because the DNA testing doesn’t implicate another shooter, the results don’t prove Jones’ innocence. But the hair was the only piece of evidence that placed Jones at the crime scene. While the results don’t exonerate him, they raise serious doubts about his guilt. As with the now-infamous Cameron Todd Willingham arson case, the key forensic evidence in a Texas death penalty case has now been debunked. “The DNA results prove that testimony about the hair sample on which this entire case rests was just wrong,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project. “Unreliable forensic science and a completely inadequate post-conviction review process cost Claude Jones his life.” Documents show that attorneys in the governor’s office failed to inform Bush that DNA testing might exonerate Jones. Bush, a proponent of DNA testing in death penalty cases, had previously halted another execution so that DNA evidence could be examined. Without knowing that Jones wanted the testing, Bush let the execution go forward. “I’m convinced that [Bush] would have granted this reprieve had he known about it,” Scheck told the Observer. “I find it just astonishing that he wasn’t told. That’s a pretty serious breakdown in the criminal justice system.” CLAUDE JONES WAS NO SAINT. Born in Houston in 1940, he was arrested numerous times and spent three stints in prison on robbery, assault and theft charges. While serving an eight-year sentence in a Kansas prison, Jones allegedly doused another inmate with lighter fluid and set him on fire, killing the man. Jones wasn’t executed for his previous crimes, though. He was put to death for what allegedly happened on the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1989. Jones and an accomplice named Kerry Daniel Dixon pulled into Zell’s liquor store in the East Texas town of Point Blank, about 80 miles northeast of Houston. They had a .357 magnum revolver given to them by a third man, Timothy Jordan. Either Jones or Dixon remained in the pickup truck, while the other went inside and shot the store’s owner, Hilzendager, three times and made off with several hundred dollars from the cash register. The question is, which of them committed the murder? Witnesses who saw the crime from across the street couldn’t positively identify which man they saw leave the store. .The third accomplice, Timothy Jordan, would testify that Jones confessed to the shooting. \(Jordan later recanted his testimony, claiming police told him what to say in exchange for a lesser charge. Jordan, Dixon and Jones had committed a string of robberies, though the liquor store heist was the only one that involved murder. Jordan was sent to prison for 10 years. Jordan’s testimony wasn’t enough to convict Jones. In Texas, accomplice testimony must be corroborated by independent evidence. At Jones’ 1990 trial in rural San Jacinto County, prosecutors offered one piece of corroborating evidencethe strand of hair recovered from the liquor-store counter. “A serious breakdown in the criminal justice system.” 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWWTEXASO BSERVER.ORG OBSERVER A