N.C. Death Row Inmate Freed

Levon "Bo" Jones leaves a North Carolina penitentiary today after serving 13 years on death row.

This is not a DNA reversal.

Levon "Bo" Jones of Duplin County spent 13 years on death row, convicted of robbing and shooting a well-liked bootlegger. In 2006, a federal judge ordered Jones off death row and overturned his conviction, declaring his attorney's performance so poor that his constitutional rights had been violated.

Today, Jones will become the eighth North Carolina man spared execution after charges against him were dropped. Judges turned the inmates loose after discovering a variety of problems in their cases, ranging from hidden evidence to inadequate defense attorneys.

Jones had been awaiting a retrial. The prosectuor intended to go for a life sentence this time around. Then, "his case collapsed" when a key witness recanted. [More...]

In an affidavit that Jones' attorneys filed in April, Lorden said, "Much of what I testified to was simply not true." She said a detective coached her on what to say at Jones' trial and that of co-defendant Larry Lamb. She collected $4,000 from the governor's office as a reward for offering the clues that led to arrests.

Lorden's new testimony also casts doubt on the conviction of Lamb, who is serving a life sentence for Grady's murder. Another co-defendant, Ernest Matthews, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was released in 2001.

Jones has always denied committing the crime. Judge Terrence Boyle, in overturning the death sentence and conviction two years ago said:

Boyle lambasted defense attorneys Graham Phillips Jr. and Charles C. Henderson for performance he deemed "constitutionally deficient." He criticized the lawyers for failing to research Lorden's history well enough to try to discredit her before jurors. He also said they had inadequately prepared to investigate Jones' mental health problems and troubled childhood in attempts to ask the jury to spare Jones the death penalty.

"Given the weakness of the prosecution's case and its heavy reliance on the testimony of Lovely Lorden, there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different."

Jones is not the only inmate to leave North Carolina's death row due to problems with the underlying convictions. From the Death Penalty Information Center:

Samuel A. Poole 1974
Christopher Spicer1975
Timothy Hennis1989

Alfred Rivera1999
Alan Gell 2004
Jonathon Hoffman 2007
Glen Chapman 2008

Here's a list from the North Carolina Department of Corrections of all inmates released from death row since 1977 and the reasons.

< Obama's O'Reilly Whines | Medical Marijuana Patient Dies After Being Refused Liver Transplant >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Hooray! (none / 0) (#1)
    by madamab on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:14:26 PM EST
    Can we please stop putting people on Death Row now?

    Hallelujah to that (none / 0) (#2)
    by feet on earth on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:27:19 PM EST

    Capital Punishment (none / 0) (#3)
    by mmc9431 on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:30:14 PM EST
    How many more of these cases will come to light before we say "enough" Former Gov. Ryan here stopped this after there were so many errors. That's why I would have a very hard time serving on any jury where the punishment is death. Living with myself afterwards would be too hard. Especially if I later found out I was wrong.

    Lucky for you (none / 0) (#4)
    by wasabi on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:41:17 PM EST
    Lucky for you (and unlucky for the defendent), you would get bumped from the jury if you weren't comfortable with the death penalty.

    We need to do away with the death penalty.  We also need to have a way to punish overzealous prosecutors.  The Tulia episode comes to mind.

    The right wing likes to mention how the boys at Duke were vindicated by a prosecution gone wild, but they don't appear to be willing to grant that same outrage to poor folks.


    Great news (none / 0) (#5)
    by blogtopus on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:43:52 PM EST
    That's wonderful to hear, despite the 13 years on DR.

    Thanks for these stories, Jeralyn. I know the site has been taken over with Election Fever, but it's good to know the world is still sane in some sectors.

    probably those Regent grads in the DOJ (none / 0) (#6)
    by thereyougo on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:44:24 PM EST
    and loyal bushies on the ground prosecuted the case. Sorry can't help the snark. This is egregious and EXPENSIVE wrongful death while the real perp is walking the streets supposedly made 'safe'by this poor man's encarceration.

    --meant: wrongful +deathrow+ (none / 0) (#7)
    by thereyougo on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:45:45 PM EST

    this is excellent news (none / 0) (#8)
    by Capt Howdy on Fri May 02, 2008 at 12:50:35 PM EST

    North Carolina you say (none / 0) (#9)
    by Buckeye on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:11:47 PM EST
    That there is Nifong country.

    Lets give the death penalty the death penalty.

    How does capital punishment affect the outcome? (none / 0) (#10)
    by wurman on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:25:01 PM EST
    [I despise the death penalty]

    As a curiosity, what about the death penalty could change a verdict?

    Even with, say, life + no parole, Mr. Jones would still have been found guilty & served these many years.  Would researchers have worked for his release, sans the impending, potential execution.

    My point is that the fundmental system is very flawed--with or without lethal injection as the result.

    Are prosecutors & police officers "blinded" by some vicious desire to eliminate a bad guy?  It seems so ridiculous to me that "the state" is willing to lie, cheat, bribe, coerce, entrap, etc., just to get some sorry criminal headed down the path to extermination.  And then my mind drifts to the next lower level & ponders whether "the state" will do anything, actually anything, to convict some drug dealer, stick-up artist, child molestor.

    How pervasive is this prosecutorial witch hunt procedure, anyway?

    a death sentence could be irreversible (none / 0) (#17)
    by heineken1717 on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:34:33 PM EST
    Yes he still would've served time if he had a received a life sentence instead of a death sentence, but at least with a life sentence there's no risk of the state killing him before his innocence is determined.

    How many others have been executed (none / 0) (#11)
    by ruffian on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:25:30 PM EST
    in the same circumstances?

    I am really frustrated when I am reminded that our leading Dem candidates are against me on the issue of the death penalty.

    But I am very happy for Mr. Jones and his family.

    Well, the numbers some people accept (none / 0) (#14)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:00:23 PM EST
    (but others feel have been discreditied) are that
    Among the 7,000 people estimated to have been killed in the United States between 1900 and 1985, at least 23 were innocent (Finnerty 18)

    Now, how many innocents would you guesstimate have been killed by unexecuted murderers during that time?

    hullo. (none / 0) (#12)
    by Salo on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:25:36 PM EST
    do you cover the death row cases in Arizona?

    I know some very active law students who do work on such cases here in Tucson.  

    Why are you against the (none / 0) (#13)
    by BevD on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:37:49 PM EST
    death penalty?  Or for it, if that is the case.

    I am interested in peoples' reasoning, not looking for an argument.

    a fair question. (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by cpinva on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:37:42 PM EST
    i have several issues with the death penalty:

    1. it's not equally applied across the board, even in the same state or county.

    2. there is the risk of an innocent person being executed. since death is sort of a permanent condition, there are no "do overs".

    3. the death penalty is state sanctioned, cold-blooded murder, regardless of how "painless" the death may be. i don't care to have murder committed in my name.

    4. historically, the death penalty has been a complete failure as a deterrant. it doesn't bring the victim of the crime back to life either. it's become revenge, not justice.

    5. life without parole is far more economically viable a sentence than death is. should new evidence exonerating the individual come to light, they're available to be freed, not so with the death penalty.

    Speaking for me only :) (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Nadai on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:52:21 PM EST
    I'm not against the death penalty in a philosophical sense - I don't think it's asking too much of people that they refrain from shooting convenience store clerks in exchange for being allowed to live.  Plus I don't believe vengeance is an entirely bad thing.

    That said, however, I don't believe the death penalty in practice is a good thing.  There are far too many mistakes made and far too much inequity in sentences.  It wouldn't surprise me if death penalty cases actually have a higher rate of false convictions.  They tend to be cases that evoke a lot of emotion, create a lot of public pressure for a conviction, and offer the prosecutor a better chance for publicity, all of which IMO increase the risk of a miscarriage of justice.

    In short, while I sometimes still want a particular criminal to fry, I don't think it's a good idea to do it.  All I really need is safety.  Vengeance, however desirable, is optional.


    I am against it (5.00 / 1) (#23)
    by CST on Fri May 02, 2008 at 04:14:58 PM EST
    Because the US government should not have the right to decide who lives or dies.

    Self-defense in the face of a killer is the only good reason I can think of for accidental murder, but I also believe no one should aim to kill - not even in war.

    Judges and juries have no right to play God.


    this is interesting to me (none / 0) (#24)
    by BevD on Fri May 02, 2008 at 05:17:13 PM EST
    thanks for the responses.  I too, don't think that the state should have the power of life and death over citizens, it is just too much power for any government to have and be expected not to abuse.  There are some people who have committed crimes so heinious that they in my opinion, have forfeited the right to live, but since I myself am not willing to put that person to death then asking others to do so is morally wrong.  I do recognize that society has a vested interest in protecting itself from those citizens who are predatory.

    My greatest objection to the argument for the death penalty is that it acts as a deterrent to crime, but I would think that this argument has an inherent fault - people in this country are tried not for crimes they may commit, but for crimes they may have committed.  That is why I would think that the three strikes laws are unconstitutional - those sentenced under it are being punished for future crimes they may commit.


    Hmm (none / 0) (#15)
    by Steve M on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:06:08 PM EST
    Wasn't this judge a Bush appointee that we kept off the 4th Circuit because he had a terrible civil rights record?

    ethics issues (none / 0) (#22)
    by txpublicdefender on Fri May 02, 2008 at 03:25:41 PM EST
    What I remember about Judge Boyle was a salon investigation about his failure to disclose his conflicts of interest related to his financial holdings and cases over which he was presiding.


    the system worked (none / 0) (#16)
    by diogenes on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:16:20 PM EST
    A man with a lousy lawyer had his death row conviction reversed.  The system worked.  What this means about using the death penalty for actually guilty murderers is an open question.

    "the system worked" (none / 0) (#18)
    by heineken1717 on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:35:26 PM EST
    If serving 13 years in jail for a crime one didn't commit is the system "working," then please, let's get a new system.

    The system *worked*? (none / 0) (#20)
    by Nadai on Fri May 02, 2008 at 02:37:49 PM EST
    The man spent 13 years on death row.  If that's a working system, I'd hate to see a broken one.

    gee, if that's all you want, (none / 0) (#25)
    by cpinva on Fri May 02, 2008 at 08:11:23 PM EST
    If that's a working system, I'd hate to see a broken one.

    take a peek at texas!


    death row? (none / 0) (#26)
    by diogenes on Sat May 03, 2008 at 10:09:48 PM EST
    If there were no death penalty, this guy would have served thirteen years wrongfully anyway.  Being on death row rather than life without parole actually brought attention to the injustice of his case and drew in outside help.
    It isn't the prosecutor's fault if a defendant has a bad lawyer.