Written By: Billy Sinclair
The State of Texas has executed 460 people since 1982. I feel certain that one or more of those condemned inmates were innocent. For example, Claude “Butch” Jones was executed on December 7, 2000, telling family members all the way to his death that he was innocent. The Houston Chronicle, in a report written by Cindy Horswell, reported two weeks ago that State District Court Judge Paul C. Murphy ordered DNA testing on a hair fragment found on the counter of a liquor store in Point Blank, a small community 65 miles north of Houston in San Jacinto County, where Jones allegedly murdered the owner during a robbery. The New York-based Innocence Project and an Austin-based newsmagazine, The Texas Observer, filed a petition some three years ago requesting what the Chronicle called “mitochondrial DNA testing” on the hair fragment.
The hair fragment is important. A Texas Department of Public Safety “expert” testified at Jones trial and could only state that “a cursory microscope examination” indicated that the hair fragment matched Jones’ hair. The Chronicle reported this was the only physical evidence that linked Jones to the murder of the liquor store owner. The new testing proposed by the Innocence Project was not available when Jones was tried, and the project’s co-director, Barry Scheck, said the test could now accomplish one of three things as reported by the Chronicle:
- It could prove Claude Jones guilt if the hair fragment matches his hair.
- It could exonerate Jones if the hair matches his co-defendant, Kerry Dixon, Jr., who was supposed to have been the getaway driver and never entered the liquor store.
- The hair fragment doesn’t match with either Jones or Dixon meaning the State did not have sufficient evidence to prove Jones killed the store owner.
The Chronicle reported that a key witness in the case, Timothy Jordan, has since recanted his testimony that Jones confessed to him that he was the triggerman. Jordan is now claiming that Dixon, who is serving a life sentence for his part in the crime, was actually the one who told him that Jones was the triggerman.
Michael Perry is scheduled to die Thursday, July 1, in the Texas death chamber. The condemned inmate was convicted in the shooting death of a woman in Montgomery County in October 2001. He claims that a confession about the murder was beaten out of him by police while he was in a drug-stupor. “The whole case is a joke, and I’m about to be murdered because of it,” Perry recently told the Chronicle. “I did not cause the death of anyone. I know that I’m innocent. If the people helping me can see, why can’t the DA and courts see it?”
Perry immediately recanted his confession to the murder of 50-year-old Sandra Stotler in her Bentwater subdivision home near Conroe. Perry and his supporters now say that he was in jail on an unrelated traffic violation at the time the state’s medical examiner said the victim was killed—October 26, 2001. Stotler’s body was discovered in a nearby lake on October 27. In his confession, Perry told the police he killed the victim on October 24, but now claims that his co-defendant, Jason Aaron Burkett, actually killed Stotler with a shotgun as well as her son, Adam, and his friend, Jeremy Richardson, a short time later.
Bill Delmore, an appellate specialist with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, dismisses Perry’s innocence claims based on the medical examiner’s time of death theory. He said the medical examiner did not testify as to how long Stotler had been dead when her body was discovered in the lake. “He started off testifying she had been dead at least 24-36 hours,” Delmore told the Chronicle. “He dropped the ‘at least.’ It was an inadvertent slip of the tongue. They took that and ran with it, but their argument was completely rejected by the courts. There is a ton of evidence corroborating the timeline set out in Perry’s confession.”
The evidence against Perry is disturbing. He was seen driving Stotler’s car on October 24, he reportedly showed the car to a friend, telling him that he had killed somebody; and the victim did not show up for work the next day. In fact, no one ever heard from her again. Even more disturbing is the fact that Perry bonded out of jail on the traffic violation using Adam Stotler’s identity.
But Perry’s attorneys rebut this evidence by saying Burkett was responsible for the triple slaying and brought Stotler’s car to their client. The lawyers have an affidavit from a jail inmate who claims that Burkett bragged to him that he killed all three of the victims. “There’s no doubt he was making bad decisions at the time,” Jessica Mederson, one of Perry’s attorneys, told the Chronicle. “It does not mean he was guilty of murdering someone.”
The fact that the courts have heard and rejected Perry’s claims of innocence as pointed out by Delmore means nothing. The Texas appellate court system has rejected claims of innocence by scores of inmates who were later determined to be actually innocent through DNA evidence. So perhaps it is fitting, although quite disturbing, that while the Innocence Project is testing evidence to see if an innocent man was executed in the Texas death chamber, another condemned inmate claiming innocence is about to be executed in the same chamber.