A Connecticut man gets his sentence vacated after nearly 30 years

Maleek Jones was convicted of murder in 1995. He's maintained his innocence ever since and a judge vacated his sentence on Friday. (Courtesy of James Jeter)
Maleek Jones was convicted of murder in 1995. He's maintained his innocence ever since and a judge vacated his sentence on Friday. (Courtesy of James Jeter)

A New Haven man who was convicted of murder nearly 30 years ago had his conviction vacated last week. On Friday, a federal judge agreed with Maleek Jones’ claims that his trial lawyer was ineffective and that he did not receive a fair trial.

Jones has consistently maintained he did not commit the 1992 murder that resulted in his 65-year sentence. He has fought the conviction through the courts for three decades.

Jones said, and U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall agreed, that his trial lawyer failed to effectively represent him by not investigating testimony from a witness who was with the victim just minutes before he was killed. That witness said there were two shooters, instead of three, as claimed by a key witness for the state.

Now, Jones’s supporters say he might finally walk free.

“It wasn't real to him,” said James Jeter, cofounder of the advocacy group Full Citizen’s Coalition and a longtime friend of Jones. He was the first to tell Jones what he’d waited to hear for years: that a judge had granted his habeas corpus petition and overturned the conviction.

“Like it was real,” Jeter said. “But he really had to catch himself and process what was being said to him, something that he had waited so long to hear.”

This case marked Jones’s latest attempt to clear his name. Over more than a decade, Jones filed a series of state and federal habeas petitions. The state and the federal courts dismissed all of those attempts, for several reasons, including that Jones hadn’t exhausted all state level appeals.

Although Hall denied two of Jones’s claims — that the state failed to disclose a plea deal from a key witness and that the state failed to obtain testimony from a ballistics expert — she also found that he court at Jones' trial mistakenly excluded testimony from a witness who said he heard a man confess to carrying out the attack with someone other than Jones.

Nonetheless, Jones’s conviction is vacated, and he must be released from prison within 60 days of the ruling unless the state decides to retry him. The Division of Criminal Justice said the matter is under review and that it is exploring all legal options.

In the meantime, Jeter says the exoneration is part of an unraveling of an era of wrongful convictions. He noted that Adam Carmon, another New Haven Man, was exonerated last month.

“It's not going to stop,” he said. “There are more people who are waiting, and there's a reckoning happening. And whether the city of New Haven, the New Haven Police Department or the state of Connecticut wants to acknowledge it, they're not going to have a choice.”

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by Connecticut Public Radio.



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