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July 07, 2023

Barry Jones Freed from Arizona’s Death Row One Year After Supreme Court Loss

By Nick Witkowski, DPRP Intern
Barry Jones with his family after his release

Barry Jones with his family after his release

Image courtesy of Cary Sandman

Barry Jones was convicted and sentenced to death nearly 30 years ago for the first-degree murder of his then-girlfriend's four-year-old daughter, Rachel Gray. Throughout the past 29 years, Mr. Jones has maintained his innocence and fought for his exoneration. Last year, his case was heard at the U.S. Supreme Court where, over vigorous dissent, a six-justice majority ruled that a lower court was prohibited from considering new evidence of his innocence. Despite this devastating loss, Mr. Jones’s lawyers continued to seek alternate pathways to relief, and after decades of legal battles, he was finally released from Arizona’s death row on June 15, 2023.

At Mr. Jones’s trial, the prosecution relied heavily upon circumstantial evidence and a later-discredited timeline of events that tied Mr. Jones to Rachel’s death. Despite the inconsistent testimony of the medical examiner about the timing of Rachel’s injuries, the defense called no expert witnesses and did not challenge the discrepancies in the prosecution’s case.

After his conviction was final, Mr. Jones sought relief through state post-conviction proceedings. There, collateral counsel had the opportunity to argue that Mr. Jones’s trial counsel was ineffective regarding the failure to challenge the medical evidence concerning the timing of Rachel’s fatal injury. However, Mr. Jones’s post-conviction counsel did not raise an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim for failure to conduct a sufficient trial investigation. Records show that post-conviction counsel did not even read the full case file. His petition for post-conviction relief in the state court was denied.

After the passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA"), individuals who petitioned the federal courts for relief from their state court convictions and sentences could only win relief, even on ineffective assistance of counsel claims, under narrow circumstances. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court held in Martinez v. Ryan that a habeas petitioner could present evidence that post-conviction counsel was ineffective in order to have their ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims heard in federal court. The Court stopped short of declaring a constitutional right to post-conviction counsel.

Under the equitable exception carved out in Martinez, Mr. Jones was able to present evidence of his trial counsel’s ineffectiveness in federal court after first showing that his post-conviction counsel was also ineffective. The federal district court ruled in Mr. Jones’s favor, finding that his trial counsel was ineffective and that he was entitled to a new trial. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, but shortly afterwards the U.S. Supreme Court granted the State of Arizona’s petition for writ of certiorari.

Last year, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Mr. Jones’s case, titled Shinn v. Ramirez after being joined with the case of another prisoner from an unrelated case, David Martinez Ramirez In Shinn, the Court held that petitioners may not present any additional evidence outside of the state record in order to demonstrate that their state trial and post-conviction attorneys were ineffective. The decision effectively abandoned the equitable procedure created in Martinez and left Mr. Jones without any opportunity to present his evidence of innocence in court. After the Shinn decision was handed down Mr. Jones’s lawyer, federal defender Cary Sandman, stated “While Shinn may have shut the courthouse doors, the need to correct an unjust conviction remained.”

Several months after the decision in Shinn, Mr. Sandman petitioned U.S. District Judge Timothy M. Burgess to order the parties to engage in settlement discussions. The parties agreed and began settlement discussions with a court-appointed settlement mediator, who acted as a crucial neutral evaluator and generated possible settlement agreements. The settlement negotiations began in December and resulted in a signed agreement and Mr. Jones’s release on June 15th. Although Mr. Jones continues to maintain his innocence, he pled guilty to the second-degree murder of Rachel Gray based solely on his failure to take her to the hospital after noticing that she was sick. He was sentenced to 25 years and released on time served. Mr. Jones was released just in time to celebrate Father’s Day with his children and grandchildren.

The information and views provided in the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Death Penalty Representation Project’s blog do not constitute official statements by the ABA and do not represent official ABA policy. For more information, please visit our policy and statement pages.