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.