Man Cleared 12 Years After Falsely Confessing As Serial Killer

By Theresa Torricellas, JD Correspondent

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2005, page 16

In March 2004, California prisoner David Allen Jones was released from state prison after a police cold case unit investigation discovered that DNA evidence conclusively linked state prisoner Chester Dwayne Turner to at least two of the three slayings for which Jones was convicted. The DNA evidence also indicated Turner could be responsible for ten other unsolved murders.

Turner, confined in state prisons for a 2002 rape conviction, became a suspect in the murders as a result of his DNA being matched to evidence from a dozen murder cases in the Los Angeles area. Police Detective Cliff Shepard, member of a special unit designed to investigate the city’s unsolved killings, submitted a semen sample from the unsolved 1998 rape-stran-gulation murder of Paula Vance to the LAPD crime lab to see if it would match the DNA of any known criminals on file.

After Turner was linked to the Vance killing and detectives discovered he was already in prison, they further researched Turner’s background, then reviewed a computer database of 50 to 60 similar motivated murders occurring in the general area of crimes to which Turner had been linked. The database, which failed to distinguish between solved or unsolved crimes, included homicides for which Jones had been convicted, and was serving a prison sentence for.

Observing that Jones’ blood type did not match the body fluids recovered from the crimes of which he’d been convicted, but that Turner’s blood type did not provide a match, detectives ordered follow up DNA testing which linked Turner to the murders and led to Jones’ exoneration.

Over a three month period in late 1992, the bodies of three strangled prostitutes were found in and near the 97th Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles. After searching recent sex crime reports for a suspect, police investigators focused on David Jones.

Jones, a mentally retarded, part-time janitor with an IQ be-tween 60 and 73, and the mental capacity of an eight year-old, lived on 101st Street, near the killings, was already in jail charged with attempted rape of a prostitute near the school, and years before had been arrested near the school with a prostitute.

Frederick Miller, the lead robbery-homicide investigating detective in the deaths, interrogated Jones three times over the course of two days. He obtained incriminating admis-sions from Jones that placed him at the crime scene, fight-ing with the victims, and putting them in a police-style choke hold to subdue them.

During the first unrecorded interview at the jail, detectives showed Jones photographs of the crime scene locations. During subsequent taped interviews, prodded by detec-tives, Jones admitted having sex and smoking crack co-caine with the victims at the locations where their bodies were found, then fighting with the women and placing them in a choke hold after they demanded more money and drugs. Jones nonetheless denied having killed any of the women, insisting they were alive when he left them.

During the taped interviews, Jones was asked leading ques-tions, and corrected by detectives when he gave statements that contradicted the evidence or his prior statements. Detec-tives corrected Jones twice on the crime location for one of the victims. Jones was also driven to the crime scenes so detec-tives could video tape him pointing out where events occurred.

After Miller finished interrogating Jones, he turned Jones over to a detective investigating the September 13, 1992 killing of Crystal Cain, a prostitute whose body was found a quarter-mile from the school. Jones admitted having fought with Cain, but again denied any killing.

Jones was then charged with four murders in the deaths of Tammie Christmas, Mary Edwards, Debra Williams and Crystal Cain. Jones’ blood and hair were collected, then compared to evidence from the crime scene. An LAPD crime lab technician determined evidence from the crime scenes for three of the victims was Type A, while Jones was Type O. A lab technician later compared hairs found in the mouth of Christmas, and hairs found on Williams and her clothing, but according to records, none of the hair belonged to Jones.

Jones’ lawyer, Patrick Thomason, argued Jones did not have the mental capacity to freely waive his rights. Two judges ruled Jones’ statements admissible at trial, and the rulings were later upheld by an appellate court.

Without any physical evidence or witnesses linking Jones to any of the killings, the prosecution’s case at trial centered on the interrogations, along with the testimony of a women who claimed Jones had raped her in his backyard. The prosecutor argued Jones had committed stealth attacks on all of the victims, similar to the testifying rape victim, then explained away the physical evidence pointing to another suspect by implying the evidence was meaningless because he victims were prostitutes.

A psychologist called to testify for Jones informed the jury Jones was mentally retarded and easily led in questioning. Jones’ lawyer argued the unknown person who let the semen and saliva evidence was the real killer.

Jones was convicted of the rape charge, and of murder in the Edwards case, but convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of Williams and Christmas, and sentenced to 36 years to life in state prison. Jones was acquitted of the Cain murder because, according to one of the jurors, unlike the others, Cain had been badly beaten, so the crime “didn’t fit the pattern.”

In prison, Jones continued to profess his innocence. When signing a letter to the FBI composed by another inmate, which stated Jones had been “falsely accused and falsely imprisoned,” and that had DNA been used in his case, it would have proved he was not the assailant, Jones misspelled his own first name.

Civil Right lawyer Constance L. Rice, selected to assess the police department’s handling of the police corruption scan-dal in the Ramparts Division said of Jones’ interrogation transcripts, “This is nothing but detectives trying to put a fabricated story in the mind of a retarded man. You could have convinced him he was Spiderman for the afternoon.”

Former federal prosecutor and past inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, Jeffrey C. English, agreed that detectives had put words in Jones’ mouth during inter-rogations, but noted that was an accepted police tactic.

LAPD officials say they will be inquiring into the detective work that led to Jones’ convictions. Jones was also cleared by police of the third murder for which he was convicted, even though no physical evidence remained from that case.

After his release, Jones filed a damage claim against Los Angeles for his false imprisonment.

Detective’s Diligence Pays Off: The LAPD cold-case investigator tracks down suspect in 1998 murder, helps clear a wrongfully convicted man, Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2004.
How Wrong Man Was Convicted in Killings, Andrew Blankstein, Anna Gorman and Evelyn Larrubia, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2004.