How Wrong Man Was Convicted in Killings

October 25, 2004|Andrew Blankstein, Anna Gorman and Evelyn Larrubia | Times Staff Writers

Even back in 1992, Los Angeles police detectives suspected that a serial killer was stalking prostitutes in South Los Angeles.

In the space of three months, they found the bodies of three strangled African American women in various stages of undress in and around 97th Street Elementary School.

There were no witnesses. There were no clues leading to a suspect. So detectives tried to make their own luck, searching for suspects in reports of recent sexual crimes. That's when they found David Allen Jones.

Jones was in jail, charged with the attempted rape of a prostitute near the school. He also had been arrested at the school with another prostitute years earlier, records showed.

Jones, a barely literate part-time janitor described by a psychiatrist as having the mental capacity of an 8-year-old, waived his right to a lawyer and was interrogated by police three times over two days.

Transcripts from two taped interviews show that he repeatedly denied killing the women, but under detectives' prodding admitted to having sex and smoking crack cocaine with the victims at the places where their bodies were found.

Jones also said that he fought with the women and placed them in a police-style chokehold when they demanded more money or drugs.

That was enough for authorities, who filed murder charges against Jones. And it turned out to be enough for a jury.

Despite evidence that hair, blood and semen samples collected at the scenes did not come from Jones and that no witnesses or physical evidence tied him to the crimes, Jones was convicted in 1995 of killing Tammie Christmas, Mary Edwards and Debra Williams and raping a fourth woman.

In fact, Jones didn't kill any of them.

Police announced Saturday that DNA evidence has conclusively linked convicted rapist Chester Dewayne Turner, 37, to the deaths of 12 women, including two that Jones had been convicted of killing. Among Turner's victims were prostitutes, homeless women and passersby.

Police also have cleared Jones of the third murder for which he was convicted, although no physical evidence in that case remained.

Jones, 44, could not be reached for comment. He was incarcerated for more than 11 years before being quietly released in March, and has filed a damage claim against the city.

Authorities have yet to explain their actions in getting an innocent man convicted, but a review of transcripts of two interrogations, court hearings and his trial shows that the case was based on the inconsistent statements of a man who was found to have an IQ of 60 to 73 and cannot read words longer than four letters.

The only corroborating evidence was that the victims had died of asphyxia and were found where Jones said he left them.

"He admitted to having sex with them. He admitted to having raped before," said juror Stanley Buliavac, who said he would convict Jones again today on the same evidence.

During detectives' first interview with Jones about the killings, which was not taped, Jones was shown photos of bodies at the crime scenes, according to records. During subsequent taped interviews, detectives asked leading questions and corrected Jones when he gave statements that contradicted the evidence or his prior statements.

When detectives asked Jones about his interactions with Williams, they twice corrected him on the locations of the crimes.

"You remember yesterday we showed you that picture by the water fountain there?" said Frederick Miller, the lead robbery-homicide detective on the case, referring to the unrecorded interview in the county jail.

Jones accepted the location, but said the woman was unhurt when he left. Miller corrected him again.

"Well, yesterday you said that -- that she fell. You saw her falling back down the steps. Do you remember that?" Miller said. "Remember we showed you that picture.... Remember she's laying down in the steps down there? You said that she fell trying to get over that gate?"

"Oh, yeah," Jones replied.

Then Jones denied having fought with the woman. Miller again reminded him that he had admitted to it the day before.

"Now, you know, you tell just the truth, you know. I'm just trying to repeat what you told us yesterday," Miller said.

"There's a lot of things I do forget," Jones replied.

"I know. That's why, you know, I'm just trying to remind you. I'm not trying to tell you what you did," Miller said.

Miller, now retired, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Anne Ingalls, who prosecuted Jones, declined to comment, as did Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. Los Angeles Police Department officials say they soon will begin an inquiry into the detective work that led to Jones' conviction.

"We're going to go back and look at these cases and do what we call a biopsy," said Capt. Al Michelena, head of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division.

Constance L. Rice, a civil rights lawyer selected by the Los Angeles Police Commission to assess the department's handling of the Rampart Division police corruption scandal, said the transcripts of Jones' interrogation were troubling.

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