Cleared 12 Years After Falsely Confessing As Serial Killer
By Theresa Torricellas, JD
magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2005, page 16
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
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
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
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.
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.
Wrong Man Was Convicted in Killings,
Andrew Blankstein, Anna Gorman and Evelyn Larrubia, Los Angeles Times,
October 25, 2004.