State News

Former death-row inmate set free

Posted May 2, 2008 7:06 a.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2008 9:44 p.m. EDT

— A man who spent 13 years on death row in North Carolina was released from prison Friday after prosecutors decided to drop the charges against him.

Levon "Bo" Jones was sentenced to death in 1993 for the slaying of Leamon Grady, a bootlegger who was robbed and shot in his home in 1987.

"I'm innocent, that's what I've got to say," Jones told reporters as he walked out of the Duplin County Jail Friday afternoon.

After meeting his grandson for the first time, he said he was "a little bit angry" about being on death row so long, but he just wanted to go home.

"It's wonderful that he's out. He's innocent, and I'm glad he's free," said his daughter, Evette Jones.

A federal judge overturned the conviction in 2006, declaring poor attorney performance had violated Jones' rights. Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson planned to retry Jones on May 12, but decided to drop charges after a key witness recanted her story.

Lovely Lorden, Jones' former girlfriend, was the only witness accusing Jones of the murder, but she admitted in an affidavit filed last month that she “was certain that Bo did not have anything to do with Mr. Grady’s murder” and that she did not know what happened the night Grady was murdered.

Lorden said a detective had coached her before Jones' trial what to say about Jones and co-defendant Larry Lamb. She also said she collected $4,000 from the governor's office for giving key information in the case.

"Much of what I testified to was simply not true," Lorden said in the affidavit.

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

Hudson still believes Jones had a hand in Grady's death, he said, and he doesn't believe Lorden's story.

"Law enforcement and I believe that Levon Jones received a fair and just trial and that he was rightfully convicted," Hudson said.

Jones' attorney, Ernest Conner, said Jones was innocent and that Lorden has given several different stories and has recanted her testimony to other people.

“We never had any doubt about Bo Jones’ innocence,” Connor said in a statement. “We knew when we started the case that there were serious holes in the evidence. After we began seriously investigating the case, it completely unraveled.”

Another witness in the case and the lead investigators have since passed away, Hudson said, making it difficult for him to put the case before a new jury.

"The deal here is (that) I just do not have the evidence to retry him," he said. "I'm not convinced he's innocent, and they're not convinced he's guilty."

Jones is the second inmate in the past month to walk away from North Carolina's death row.

Glen Edward Chapman was released from Central Prison in Raleigh on April 2 after spending 14 years under a death sentence.

Catawba County prosecutor Jay Gaither decided not to retry that case after a judge granted Chapman a new trial. The judge ruled Chapman got ineffective assistance from his original attorneys and that evidence was lost, destroyed or withheld.

In Jones' case, "This case highlights the serious and rampant flaws inherent in the death penalty,” Cassandra Stubbs, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing Jones, said in a statement. “A system that can't protect the innocent from conviction shouldn't gamble with life and death."

The most recent execution in North Carolina took place in August 2006, and a tangle of legal and court issues has since halted executions since then. Among the issues are questions about a doctor's role, or lack thereof, during a lethal injection.