On June 15, 2023, Arizona death-sentenced prisoner Barry Jones was freed after serving 29 years for a crime that the Arizona Attorney General agreed he did not commit. Mr. Jones was sentenced to death in 1995 after being convicted of murdering his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter in 1994. Medical evidence that was readily available at the time of trial showed that the child did not sustain her fatal internal injuries during the time while she was in Mr. Jones’s care. But this evidence was not discovered by either his trial attorney or his state post-conviction attorney. In 2018, Mr. Jones presented this evidence for the first time in federal court as proof that his state counsel had been ineffective for failing to investigate and present medical evidence that contradicted the prosecution’s timeline. Both the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed he was entitled to a new trial.  

But in 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in Shinn v. Ramirez, prohibiting him from introducing any evidence in federal court that was not already on the state record.  That meant that Mr. Jones could not argue for the first time in federal court that he had received ineffective assistance from his state-level lawyers—and could not therefore present the compelling medical evidence his state lawyers should have discovered. At the time the ruling was handed down, Christina Swarns, the executive director of the Innocence Project, said “The opinion leaves innocent people in the nightmarish position of having no court to go to for justice.” 

Under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) defendants are generally prohibited from raising claims in federal habeas court that they did not raise during their initial trial or their state-level appeal. However, in Martinez v. Ryan in 2012 and Trevino v. Thaler in 2013, the Supreme Court held that there was a narrow exception to that rule.  If the defendant could prove that they received ineffective assistance of counsel both at trial and during state-level appeals, and therefore they never had competent counsel to raise trial-level claims, then they could raise those claims for the first time during federal habeas review. Shinn (which was a consolidated case involving both Mr. Jones and another Arizona death row defendant, David Martinez Ramirez) was considered by some legal experts to contradict that precedent, because the Court held that while defendants could raise the claim, they could only use the evidence that had been developed on the record during the trial and state appeals.   

While Shinn is still the law of the land, and criminal defendants for both capital and non-capital crimes now have a much more limited path for federal judicial review, the decision did not bar the Arizona Attorney General’s Office from independently reviewing the case. After doing so, the office agreed to a settlement agreement that had Mr. Jones pleading guilty to second-degree murder—for failing to take his girlfriend’s daughter to a hospital while she was in his care and already suffering from her fatal internal injury—in exchange for which he was released from prison for time served.  


Read the Pima County Order Granting Relief here

Elena Santa Cruz, Lawyer: Arizona death row inmate free after 29 years for a crime he did not com­mit, AZ Central, June 152023