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Again, the guilt of an executed Texas inmate is in doubt

Family photos taken of convicted murderer Claude Jones at Texas’s death row visitors’ room the day before he was executed in 2000. Family photos taken of convicted murderer Claude Jones at Texas’s death row visitors’ room the day before he was executed in 2000.
Associated Press / August 16, 2010

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POINT BLANK, Texas — Claude Jones may have been wrongly executed for the 1989 slaying of a liquor store owner in this aptly named Texas town, but no one says he was an angel.

He was a lifelong criminal, with a rap sheet that included a murder conviction for setting fire to a fellow inmate in a Kansas prison. Two eyewitnesses and Jones’s accomplices placed him at the liquor store.

And even one of Jones’s attorneys says the defense had “a devil of a time finding a good character witness.’’

But there are new questions 10 years after Jones was executed about whether he actually killed 44-year-old Allen Hilzendager while robbing the store, and whether the testimony used to convict him was enough. A judge has ordered DNA testing on a strand of hair that prosecutors used to link Jones to the slaying.

It is the second time in a year that the guilt of an executed Texas inmate is in doubt. A fire expert last year said the investigation of the blaze that killed Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters was so flawed that the arson finding can’t be supported. Willingham was executed in 2004. Last month, a state panel concluded that arson investigators were not negligent.

“He was no poster boy, Claude,’’ said Jerald Crow, Jones’s trial attorney. “But that doesn’t matter. The law is the law, and they need to follow it.’’

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