2017-10-24 13:32:20 UTC
What Happened to Rachel Gray?----Barry Jones Was Sent to Death Row for the
Murder of a 4-Year-Old Girl. Did Arizona Get It Wrong?
On a Monday morning in early September, Hildegard Stoecker was on her front
patio in southwest Tucson, where she likes to spend the sunrise. In a few
hours, the sun would beat hard on the Arizona desert and temperatures would hit
100 degrees. But at 6 a.m., it was cool. A soft glow illuminated the peaked
foothills of Tucson Mountain Park behind her home; in her front yard, cacti and
Caesalpinia bushes were bathed in pink light and a hummingbird hovered by the
Stoecker was not feeling serene. On Friday she had received a message about a
man on Arizona's death row, whose name was all too familiar. Barry Lee Jones
was convicted in 1995 for the rape and murder of a young girl. It was the kind
of unfathomable crime that Stoecker felt should send someone to hang "from the
highest tree," she recalled. The trial judge agreed and sentenced Jones to die.
But 22 years later, Stoecker was disturbed to hear that Jones was still on
death row. Not because she thought he should have been executed by now. In
fact, it was the opposite: She had mistakenly assumed he'd probably been
removed from death row - maybe even exonerated. "What you're saying bothers me
quite a bit," she said. The sentiment was surprising coming from Stoecker. She
was one of the jurors who convicted Jones.
Some 10 years ago, she explained, an investigator with the Arizona Federal
Public Defender's Office had visited her at home. He was interviewing trial
jurors as part of the appellate process in Jones's case. Her memory of the
meeting is vague. But it made a strong impression, bringing up old doubts about
the evidence presented at trial. She had always felt that Jones's lawyers did a
poor job representing him. The meeting made her think there had been other
flaws in his case - and the state would be forced to address them.
Stoecker is in her 70s, with cropped gray hair. She wore jeans and a T-shirt
with a bald eagle on it and was barefoot, seated in her motorized wheelchair.
Decades ago, she was diagnosed with an incurable lung condition she contracted
while working at a ceramics plant. At the time of Jones's trial, she had just
begun her treatment and was increasingly unable to work. She got involved in
animal welfare. That morning, her rescue cockatoo, Max, squawked insistently
from inside the house. Stoecker explained that Max had been traumatized after
seeing "a bird friend" killed by dogs and had plucked out his own feathers. She
was fostering him until he found a new home.
If Stoecker's natural compassion made her an unlikely death penalty supporter,
Jones's sentence had not been for her to decide. In those years, judges, not
juries, imposed the death penalty in Arizona. "Whether we as a jury would've
sentenced him to death, I don't know," she said. But there was another reason
capital punishment made Stoecker uneasy. When she was a teenager in San
Francisco during the 1950s, California executed a man named Burton Abbott for
raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl. Abbott swore he was innocent; like
Jones, his conviction relied heavily on circumstantial evidence. On the day he
died, the governor called the prison to grant a last-minute stay, only to find
the execution was already underway.
"I don't know that I was fully convinced he was guilty," Stoecker said about
Abbott. But she was only in high school - "What did I know?" She did not give
the death penalty much thought after that. Not until the trial of Barry Jones.
"This is something that's been with me for a long, long time," Stoecker said.
The possibility that she might have made the wrong decision distressed her.
"I realize a lot of people just put it out of their minds and go on with their
lives," she said. A friend had told her, "'Look, you did the best you could at
the time. You know, just kinda let it go.' And I can't let it go."
Since the day of his arrest in 1994, Barry Lee Jones has insisted he did not
rape or kill his girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter, Rachel Yvonne Gray. Jailed
on the same day the child's lifeless body arrived at a Tucson hospital, Jones
admitted she'd been injured on his watch, repeatedly saying she had fallen from
his parked yellow work van the day before, hitting her head. Jones said Rachel
told him a little boy had pushed her out. But even if it was true, that did not
explain the bruises covering her body, or the abdominal injury that took her
Almost no physical evidence linked Jones to Rachel's injuries - and there was
nothing to show he was guilty of rape. But when children die under mysterious
circumstances, early suspicion typically falls on the adults who were closest
to them in their final hours. On that day, witnesses said, that person was
Jones. He and Rachel's mother, Angela Gray, were tried back to back in 1995;
Gray was convicted of child abuse but acquitted of murder. Jones was sentenced
After more than 20 years insisting upon his innocence, Jones won a rare
evidentiary hearing from a U.S. district judge, set to begin October 30.
Attorneys with the Arizona Federal Public Defender's Office plan to argue that
Jones's trial was fundamentally unfair, marred by ineffective assistance of
counsel in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Moreover, they say, bad
lawyering at the post-conviction level left the trial attorneys' failures
unaddressed, resulting in a horrible miscarriage of justice. If his lawyers
succeed, Jones could win a new trial - or even be released from prison.
Poor defense representation and a lack of physical evidence are both hallmarks
of wrongful convictions. The files in Jones's case reveal many more. They show
a rush to judgment, tunnel vision by the Pima County Sheriff's Department, and
a shifting theory of the crime by the state. Prosecutors relied on the most
dubious kinds of evidence, from flawed forensics to the eyewitness accounts of
young children. Vital pieces of evidence were lost, concealed, or never
collected to begin with. More recently, DNA testing on one key item has failed
to implicate Jones.
In a state where 8 people have been exonerated from death row, Arizona
prosecutors have fought against reopening Jones's case, even as the basis for
his conviction has fallen apart. As his defense attorneys argue, "Jones was
convicted based on a very specific timeline, which was grounded on a single
factual premise: that Rachel was fatally injured and sexually assaulted while
she was alone with Jones on portions of Sunday, May 1, 1994." The total time
frame was no longer than four hours, during which Jones was seen taking the
child on short trips in his van. But several medical experts hired by defense
attorneys have concluded that Rachel's fatal injury could not possibly have
occurred within the narrow window presented by the state.
More significant still, in a recent letter to Jones's lawyers, the Arizona
Attorney General's Office conceded that the current Pima County medical
examiner "did not dispute the conclusions of your experts." And the forensic
pathologist who took the stand against Jones in 1995 has acknowledged that his
testimony was flawed. Jones's attorneys are certain that if the case were tried
again, "no juror acting reasonably would ever find Jones guilty beyond a
For his part, Jones admits he was no upstanding citizen before he went to
prison. But he did not kill Rachel Gray. "I was guilty of a lifestyle," Jones
told me. "I was a thief. I was a dope fiend. ... I wasn't looking out for
nobody but myself. And I hold myself responsible, because she died under my
roof, on my watch. ... I blame myself every day for that."
It was 6:16 a.m. on May 2, 1994, when 30-year-old Angela Gray arrived in her
nightgown at Kino Community Hospital in south Tucson, carrying her youngest
child, Rachel. The frail 4-year-old wore pink pajamas with feet. She was pale
and had no pulse. Emergency room doctor Steven Seifert was nearing the end of
his overnight shift when he entered the examination room. He quickly realized
there was nothing to be done. The child was cool to the touch, he would later
testify, and rigor mortis had already begun to set in. "She was essentially
dead on arrival."
She was also covered in injuries. There were abrasions and bruises all over her
body, Seifert testified, along with other disturbing signs of trauma. Seifert
told Gray that her daughter was deceased. Then, as he was obligated to do under
the law, he called the police.
Tucson police officer Richard Law was the first to arrive at the hospital. "It
was my opinion that, just from looking at her, she had been severely beaten,"
he later said in an interview with defense attorneys. He approached Gray, but
she was not all there, seemingly fixated on smoking a cigarette. She was thin,
with dirty blond hair, and covered with a blanket. Gray told Law that her
boyfriend, Barry Jones, had dropped her and Rachel off at the hospital. He
supposedly was going to check on the children they had left at home, but he had
not come back yet. "I just thought it was very strange," Law said.
At 7:44 a.m., a 2nd Tucson police officer, Michael Thomson, took a formal
statement from Gray in the doctor's lounge. Gray said that she and her three
children lived with Jones and his daughter in the Desert Vista Trailer Park on
East Benson Highway, just 4 miles south. The 2 had met a few months earlier.
Jones was a mechanic, Gray said. She did not know his birthday. "Um, um, he's
like 35 years old."
Gray had no explanation for what had happened to her daughter. She had slept
through the previous day, she said, and did not wake up until early evening. "I
can tell you what I was told happened," Gray said. When she woke up, Jones told
her that he had put Rachel down for a nap; she had been playing with some kids
in his van when she fell out of the vehicle, hitting her head. Jones reassured
her that Rachel was OK. But later, she saw Jones returning in his van with
Rachel. He said her head had started bleeding, and he had taken her to the fire
station just down the street. Paramedics had taken out her braids and rinsed
her head, reassuring Jones that head wounds bleed a lot.
Rachel seemed OK, but later she began vomiting, Gray said. Rachel said she was
thirsty, but "every time I'd give her a drink, she'd, like, drink it real fast
and throw up." Later that night, she noticed bruises on her chest. Gray said
she asked Rachel if someone had hurt her, "and she said the little boys that
pushed her out of the van."
Rachel went to sleep in the bed Gray shared with Jones. The next morning, Gray
found her in her own room, buried under the covers. When she removed the
sheets, Rachel would not wake up. Gray yelled for Jones. "I remember screaming
that we didn't have time," she said, "and to just get me to the hospital, and
he could come back and get the kids."
But Jones had not come back to the hospital. "I mean, why wouldn't he come
Thomson asked Gray about her relationship with Jones. Had he ever hit her? Gray
said no. Thomson asked how they disciplined the kids and Gray chuckled. "If the
girls would get in trouble for something, it's 'You have to stay in your room
over this weekend, no TV' and stuff, and that usually lasts for 2 or 3 hours,
and he lets them out of the room." With her son, Jones sometimes took away
video games, she said. But Jones was gone a lot and wasn't usually in charge of
the children. "I've never seen him lay a hand on any of the kids."
It was shortly after 8 a.m. when Pima County Sheriff's Detective Sonia
Pesqueira - known then as Sonia Rankin - arrived at Kino Hospital. 31 years old
and 5 months pregnant, Pesqueira had started her career as a campus police
officer at Pima Community College, coordinating the rape prevention program.
She joined the sheriff's department in 1984. Her personnel file would show an
early passion for investigating sex crimes. One retired detective who worked on
the Jones case told me Pesqueira was "top notch," a zealous defender of
Thomson told Pesqueira what he'd learned. From that point on, the investigation
belonged to Pesqueira and the Pima County Sheriff's Department.
An autopsy was scheduled for the next day, but Pesqueira didn't wait to speak
to any doctors. "I do my own examination," she would later tell a grand jury.
"Medical personnel are not in the room." Pesqueira removed Rachel from the body
bag. "I observed numerous and varied contusions on the victim's torso area to
include the abdominal and upper chest area," she wrote in a report. "There were
contusions to the face area, eyes and forehead. The contusions to the area
around both eyes appeared to be in varying stages." There was dried blood on
Rachel's head. Then Pesqueira checked between her legs. There was "extensive
injury" inside her vagina, she found. There was also blood.
Pesqueira put Rachel's pajamas and underwear in a paper bag. Then she went to
find Angela Gray.
East Benson Highway cuts a southeast line across Tucson. In its heyday, it was
the city's main drag, lined with "snowbird motels," cheap roadside lodging with
iconic neon signs that attracted Northerners in winter. But along the 5-mile
stretch that was home to the Desert Vista Trailer Park, Interstate 10 was built
parallel to the road, cutting it off from traffic and isolating its businesses.
The area took a turn for the worse. "To most Tucsonans now," the Arizona Daily
Star reported in 2006, "Benson Highway is just a seedy stretch of road on the
way to the airport, a place to punch the door-lock button if they hit a red
The Desert Vista was located toward the end of the highway, where rolling
desert attracted people who lived off the grid, forming makeshift transient
camps. The area could be dangerous. The year after Rachel Gray died, a
20-year-old woman was found raped and strangled at a nearby camp.
Pima County Sheriff's Detective George Ruelas arrived at the trailer park on
the morning of May 2. At around 8:40 a.m., according to his report, Ruelas went
to the Rural Metro Fire Station, where Jones told Gray a paramedic had examined
Rachel the day before. The station log for Sunday, May 1 "showed no record of
contact with Rachel Gray," Ruelas wrote. The fire captain told Ruelas that as
far as he knew, no one there had encountered the little girl.
Jones had lied to his girlfriend.
By the time Ruelas sat down with Jones's 11-year-old daughter, Brandie, later
that morning, rumors were flying at the Desert Vista. Police had found her
father at a transient camp nearby. Their home had also been searched. The
single-wide trailer was surrounded by junk: old tires, slabs of wood, and large
appliances scattered in front of the chain-link fence. Inside it was dirty and
cluttered, with pockmarked wood paneling covering the walls.
"I have a question to ask," Brandie said. "Um, what kid did my dad hurt?"
Ruelas said he did not know if Jones had hurt any kid. "'Cause that's what
everyone's tellin' me," Brandie said, but "my dad didn't hurt any kids."
Brandie remembered hearing Rachel say she had fallen from the van. The
vehicle's large interior was filled with tools, divided into compartments and
covered with a piece of plywood. Brandie explained that there weren't any kids
Rachel's age at the trailer park, so she liked to hang out while Jones did
mechanical work. "She'll say, Oh, you got that crooked, and he'll have to go
back over it, and they, like, have a lot of fun together," Brandie said.
Brandie told Ruelas that Jones did not hit her, Gray, or any of the kids. She
also shared another thing: On Sunday, Rachel said that a boy had hit her in the
stomach with a metal bar the day before. A misunderstanding ensued - Gray
thought Rachel meant that Jones had hit her, and the 2 got into an argument.
But Rachel meant a little boy, Brandie said. She did not know who Rachel was
talking about. But she did see a bruise on Rachel's stomach.
Meanwhile, another detective was talking to Becky, Rachel's 10-year-old sister,
at the sheriff's department. Becky said that she had come back from a friend's
house Sunday evening and saw Rachel on the couch, with a washcloth on her head.
Her mother asked Rachel how she got injured, and "she kept saying, A boy pushed
me out of the van and hit me with a metal bar in the stomach," Becky said.
The detective asked Becky if she thought Jones would ever hurt Rachel. "No,"
she said. Had he ever hit her or "touched any of your private parts or
anything?" Again Becky said no. The detective asked if both Gray and Jones had
stayed home on Sunday. Becky said her mom had slept all day, but Jones had gone
to a friend's house and to the store. Did any of the kids go with him?
"Rachel," Becky said.
"Just her and him?" the detective asked. Yes, Becky said.
Back at the hospital, Pesqueira and Gray sat outside in Pesqueira's police car.
There were no rooms available inside, Pesqueira would later explain. Relatives
voiced concern that Gray had not been read her rights, but Pesqueira reassured
her. "You're not in custody, and I'm talking to you as a mom, OK?" she said. "I
just wanna know what happened to your baby."
Gray repeatedly told Pesqueira that she could not picture Jones hurting Rachel.
The night before, Rachel had asked if she could sleep in the middle of the bed
"'cause she wanted to sleep by Barry too." It sounded stupid now, Gray said,
but Jones made her feel safe. When her ex used to get drunk and beat her up,
other men would never intervene. But Jones protected her. "And nobody's ever
Gray recalled a couple of days when Rachel seemed to be afraid of Jones. And
Rachel had recently come home with a black eye, which Becky blamed on Jones,
saying he'd hit Rachel with a rake. But Rachel said it wasn't true. Gray
explained that Becky, who was going through a "lying phase," sometimes got
jealous and picked on her little sister. Gray discovered she had been using
Jones to scare Rachel, threatening that if Rachel told on Becky about anything,
Jones would hurt her.
Gray said she did not know how Rachel had gotten so many bruises on her body.
"Angela, did you cause any of these injuries?" Pesqueira asked. Gray said no.
Then Pesqueira told her that Ruelas had found no record of Jones taking Rachel
to the fire station. "Oh no," Gray said.
The interrogation of Barry Jones is hard to watch.
At 10:11 a.m., Pima County Sheriff's Detective Michael O'Connor leads him into
a small interview room. Jones is short, just 5 foot 7, and disheveled. He is
wearing a red T-shirt and jeans that hang loosely from his hips. His long,
scraggly hair is thinning on the top. The detective who brought him from the
transient camp had found him passed out, later describing him as distraught and
"I don't know if anyone's told you yet, do you know why you're down here?"
O'Connor begins. "No," Jones answers. "I took the little girl to the hospital
and her mom this morning," he says. "I need to see my old lady to the baby."
Then O'Connor tells him that Rachel is dead.
I'm not lying, Barry.
She gonna be all right. No. (starts crying) No. No. No. No. No. No. No. She's
all right. She's all right. No. No. No. No. God.
Jones says he wants to go see Rachel. O'Connor says that Rachel has wounds that
are "consistent with, um, uh, an abused child." Jones screams.
Now, Barry ...
No, no, no, no, no.
Barry, please listen to me. I don't know what happened, OK. Or how these things
may have happened to this child, OK. I do know ...
She's only 4.
Jones sobs and buries his head in his hands. O'Connor asks him to compose
himself and then reads him his Miranda rights. While O'Connor briefly leaves to
get a box of tissues, Jones remains slumped over the table, moaning.
Pima County sheriff's officers would later describe suspicions about Jones's
hysterics. "I felt he was acting," Sgt. Michael Downing said at a pretrial
hearing. "He started to slam his head against the table. I thought it was a
When he spoke, Jones answered questions in sobbing, guttural bursts. At times
he seemed dazed, offering rambling memories of Rachel: how he sang her a
lullaby but did not know all the words; how he built a bed for her - and she
"was all proud, proud of that little Rachel bed. Boy, made me feel so good, you
know. She liked her little Rachel bed."
Over the 1st 2 hours in the interrogation room, O'Connor was able to elicit
some basic information from Jones. Much of it matched Gray's general account.
Jones said he had napped on and off on Sunday and at one point saw Rachel fall
out of the van, where she had been playing with 2 little boys. "And she said
one of 'em pushed her out," he said. She didn't cry, but she had a knot on her
head. He gave her half a Tylenol or an aspirin and she went back out to play.
Later Rachel went with him to get some frozen burritos for dinner at the Choice
Market nearby. "She carried the milk for me," he said.
Sometime after that, Jones said, neighbors noticed that Rachel looked sick.
After laying her down for a short nap, he noticed there was blood on her
pillow, which scared him. He loaded her into his van and headed toward the
Rural Metro Fire Station. But there was a police officer there, Jones said -
and his driver's license was suspended. He drove on to the Quik Mart down the
street, where he saw an EMT. The man shined a light in Rachel's eyes. "He said
something about her, her eyes being reactive equal, reacting equal, something,"
Jones said. The EMT told him to keep ice on Rachel's head, and "that's what I
Jones said he had noticed the bruises on Rachel's stomach when Gray put her in
pajamas the night before. O'Connor asked about Rachel's other bruises. "What
other bruises?" Jones asked. There were bruises that appeared to have been
healing for weeks, O'Connor said. "I don't know," Jones said. "Her mama told me
she bruised real easy." Gray had not wanted to take Rachel to the hospital,
Jones said. "She just said last night, I'd take her to the emergency room, but
they'd take her away from me."
O'Connor asked Jones if he had ever spanked Rachel. "Never," he said. Jones
admitted yelling at the kids - he sometimes called Rachel a "whiny butt" and
sent her to her room - but he didn't believe in physical punishment. "It don't
serve no purpose."
Nearly 3 hours into the interrogation, Pesqueira arrived. Things soon
escalated. She told him that Becky had accused him of hitting Rachel. She also
implied that Brandie had made accusations, too. "Did you know that your own
daughter has said certain things about what you did to her?" Pesqueira asked.
I did to who?
Did to Rachel.
No. I never done nothing to Rachel.
Did you know that you could be facing 1st-degree murder charges? 1st-degree
murder, Barry, that's what we're talking about.
You. You. Because everything points to you, Barry.
Jones swore he did not hurt Rachel. But "I let her die," he cried over and over
again. Detectives insisted he was lying. Pesqueira called him a "piece of
shit." Downing suggested Jones had lost his temper. "She pissed you off, didn't
she?" he asked. "Rachel was a good girl," Jones cried.
At one point, Downing said Rachel was looking down from heaven unable to rest,
asking Jesus why Jones would not admit what he did. "She would never lie to
Jesus," Jones said.
After almost 5 hours, the interrogation ended. Jones was put in handcuffs and
booked for 1st-degree murder and child abuse.
In a front-page story on May 3, 1994, the Arizona Daily Star reported on the
arrest of Barry Jones. It mentioned Rachel's alleged fall from the van, but
also quoted an anonymous neighbor who described how Rachel had walked into her
camper trying to vomit. "Her face was a greenish color, then it turned white,"
she said. Jones "looked real concerned for her."
An autopsy was conducted that same day. Dr. John D. Howard, a pathologist with
the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office, conducted the procedure while
There were signs Rachel was not well cared for. She was underweight, just 28
pounds. Her baby teeth showed decay. The external injuries included "blunt
genitalia trauma" and a deep cut on her scalp. But the head injury was not what
killed Rachel. Instead, Howard found "an irregular laceration of the descending
portion of the duodenum" - part of Rachel's small intestine. It was a
relatively rare injury, commonly associated with car accidents, and likely
caused by a sharp blow to her stomach. "Death was caused by small bowel
laceration due to blunt abdominal trauma," Howard wrote in his autopsy report.
Meanwhile, Pima County detectives kept interviewing children. A woman named
Norma Lopez had contacted the sheriff's department, saying that on May 1,
around 4 p.m., her 8-year-old twins - a brother and sister - came home from the
Choice Market near the Desert Vista. They said they had seen a man with "flying
hair" hitting a little girl while driving a van. The girl was crying - "They
could hear her and they could see it," Lopez told the detective. When she saw
the news about Jones's arrest on TV, "I knew right away the kids saw the same
Interviewing young children can be fraught with risk. An unqualified questioner
can extract unreliable or imagined recollections. At the time of Rachel's
death, coercive or suggestive interviewing of children had led to a rash of
lurid, elaborate, and false accusations about ritual sexual abuse at daycare
centers across the country. The resulting wrongful convictions are still being
Despite the existing research in 1994 recommending best practices for
interviewing children, the Pima County Sheriff's Department had no such
protocols in place. The twins were interviewed in each other's company, with
their mother present. Both said they saw a man hitting and elbowing a little
girl while driving a van. When Laura, the sister, said she had not watched the
5 o'clock news to confirm that Jones was the man she saw, Lopez reminded her
that she had. The detective asked Laura if she really remembered watching the
news. "A little," she said. When Ray, the brother, couldn't estimate the age of
the man in the van, Lopez brought up her own brother, who was in his 30s. "OK,
was he about like your uncle?" the detective asked. "Uh huh," the boy said.
The Lopez twins would become key witnesses for the state.
Becky, too, would become an important witness against Jones. After her mother
was arrested on May 3, she and her 14-year-old brother, Jonathan, were taken in
by their aunt Donna Foster. The next day, Foster contacted detectives, saying
Becky had something new to share. In a videotaped interview, Becky recalled
overhearing Rachel telling her mother that "Barry hit her with a metal shoe bar
in the head." Becky didn't see the shoe bar, or really know what a shoe bar
was. But she heard her mom and Jones arguing about it. "Becky states she was
present when Rachel told their mother that Barry had caused the injuries to
her,' the detective wrote in a report.
While detectives collected statements against Jones, signs were emerging that
Gray neglected her kids. When Foster picked up Becky and Jonathan from school
after their mother's arrest, she found them unkempt and wearing clothes they
had outgrown, according to an affidavit she later provided to Jones's federal
defense attorneys. The kids ate voraciously, awed by the amount of food she had
at her home. Before long, Foster called Child Protective Services with concerns
that Becky had suffered abuse and "possible inappropriate sexual touching,"
according to a subsequent medical report. Becky told doctors that her mother
hit her in "all sorts of places," including her stomach and face.
Angela Gray's own upbringing was marked by trauma. According to Foster's
affidavit, Gray's 18-year-old mother killed herself when Gray was young; her
father moved her from Massachusetts to Arizona, only to give her up for
adoption. By the time she was a teenager, Gray was doing drugs and living on
the streets, Foster said. Gray's sister had told police at the hospital that
Gray seemed depressed and ill-equipped to raise her kids.
The consequences were particularly dire when it came to Jonathan, who was born
deaf. Gray did not provide the care he needed to learn to communicate; when he
was little, Foster remembered Jonathan "screaming at us because he could not
speak." It was not until he was 12 years old that he was enrolled at the
Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind, where administrators found "he could
only read at a 2nd-grade level," according to Foster.
During Jonathan's own interview with Detective Ruelas on the day Rachel died,
he seemed confused, asking if his sister was going to stay in the hospital. He
had gone to school that morning. No one had told him what was going on. Through
an interpreter, Jonathan referred to Jones as his "friend," saying at one point
he had pulled Rachel's hair, but "not hard." Jonathan said Jones never spanked
Rachel, just sent her to her room.
Jonathan would never take the stand. Nor was the evidence of Gray's abuse
admitted at Jones's trial. Jurors never heard about it.
Upon arriving at the Pima County Jail, Jones wished aloud he could trade places
with Rachel. He was put on suicide watch. Shortly afterward, Jones received
notice of his indictment and the state's plan to seek the death penalty. He
also received a letter from Gray.
"Angela baby, if I could tell you what happened to Rachel I would in a minute
and we would not be where we are," Jones wrote back. He told her what happened
after he left her at the hospital. First, he had picked up the kids and taken
them to his twin brother Larry's house. Then he asked a friend to go with him
to see a man named Ron, who lived in a school bus at a nearby transient camp.
He planned to return to the hospital, but Ron told him he was having a
"breakdown" and gave him a pill to calm him down. Jones passed out. The next
thing he knew, he was being arrested.
"Babe I lied about the fire station," Jones wrote. He explained that he'd seen
a sheriff's officer and wanted to avoid him since he had no license or plates.
He apologized, "but Rachel's head was bleeding and Fire Station and Paramedic
sound much more comforting to a mother than Quik Mart and EMT." The thought
that someone hurt Rachel made him feel sick, he wrote. "It makes me think I
should have hung around the house more often and not been gone so much."
Meanwhile, a private investigator named George Barnett began working on the
case, hired by Jones's court-appointed attorneys. An Air Force veteran who did
3 tours in Vietnam, Barnett had worked as a Tucson police officer until opening
his own practice. In mid-May, he visited the Desert Vista Trailer Park.
Barnett recorded his findings in a 16-page report. He heard the same thing
again and again: Jones was not known for physical violence and neighbors
trusted him with kids. A manager of the trailer park said he was quiet and
polite, and seemed to have a good relationship with his daughter, Brandie. One
woman said Jones would often help his neighbors with repairs, asking only
compensation for the parts. If he lost his temper, he just walked away - and
"his payback would be in the form of never assisting or helping that person who
made him angry," Barnett wrote.
But Angela Gray was another story. Several people told Barnett she yelled at
her children when Jones was not around. One neighbor said that she had stopped
letting her daughters play at Jones's home after Gray moved in. She believed
Jones wasn't really in love with Gray but tolerated her because he didn't want
to kick her out with her children. "I can't believe that Barry had anything to
do with harming that child," the neighbor told Barnett.
Not everyone had described Jones in glowing terms. The day after his arrest,
his ex-wife, Carol, told detectives that during their marriage, he had been
"angry most of the time." He was out of work and using drugs, lashing out and
cursing at the kids. He had not generally been violent, she said, but in that
period "he took a belt to 'em" a few times. When she decided to leave him, he
threatened to kill himself in front of the kids and was forced into psychiatric
treatment. But a former manager at the trailer park told Barnett that Jones had
quit drinking and "was much less agitated" than he had been during his marriage
Leann Jones, who was married to Larry, said Jones was far from perfect, but he
would never hurt a child. "I mean, there's things Barry probably has done over
the years that he should be in jail for, but not for that," she told me. The
brothers were born in South Carolina and grew up in a volatile household,
moving constantly. Their mother, herself a victim of abuse, drank heavily, beat
the kids, and once stabbed her husband, according to interviews with family
members conducted by Jones's federal defense team. Jones began stealing and was
sent to Vision Quest, a program for delinquent youth. By the time he shacked up
with Gray at the Desert Vista, they were both hooked on crystal meth.
Barnett also learned that Jones had been having an affair with a woman named
Rose, the friend who went with him to the transient camp the day Rachel died.
Rose was his ex-girlfriend; her own daughter, Elishia, remained close to Jones.
On the phone, Rose told Barnett that Jones had shown up distraught that
morning, saying that Rachel was in a coma and convinced it was because of the
Barnett's report was filled with leads to pursue. The co-owner of the Desert
Vista told him he had heard that a "2-year-old boy who was slightly large for
his age had struck Rachel in the stomach with either a stick or an iron bar."
After the arrests of Jones and Gray, the mother of the boy "packed her things
and moved within 2 hours without notifying the office," Barnett wrote.
Neighbors said she was "scared to death" that her son might be responsible for
But just a week into his work, Barnett was told by Jones's attorneys that
continuing to pay him was "financially infeasible." Barnett would stop his
investigation until further notice. He never picked it up again.
George Barnett died in 2014. But in a sworn affidavit signed in 2002, he said
he was certain he could have proven Jones's innocence had he been able to keep
investigating. He had not even realized that Jones was represented by Sean
Bruner, a Tucson defense lawyer who was the lead attorney on the case; Barnett
had only ever met with his co-chair, Leslie Bowman. He was never called to
testify at trial.
Bowman, who is now a U.S. magistrate judge, acknowledged in a 2002 affidavit
that she failed to seek additional funds to pay Barnett. She had only practiced
law for about a year, yet Bruner delegated major responsibilities in the
capital case to her, such as interviewing all witnesses. She never even spoke
Jones expressed confidence in his lawyers in his early letters from jail, which
he wrote mainly to Rose and Elishia. He rarely mentioned Bruner but was upbeat
about Bowman, who he called Miss Leslie. She was "pretty as a speckled puppy,"
he wrote, and "sharp as a tack." He observed that "Mr. Sean is piling on the
work on her."
But as time went on, Jones described lapses in communication with Bowman and
concerns that the state was manipulating the evidence against him. "The really
rough part is that I believe they already know of my innocence but do not want
to look stupid so they try to fabricate a story against me," he wrote.
Jones had been in jail for 6 months when he got word that his twin brother,
Larry, had died. Jones sought permission to go to his funeral but was denied.
He spiraled downward after that. As his trial approached in the spring of 1995,
Jones sent a letter to Bowman. "Dear Miss Leslie," he wrote, "wanted to write
and see what is happening. It is getting close to trial time and I am becoming
A month before the start of the trial, Brandie was deposed by attorneys for
Jones, Gray, and the state. Brandie repeated that Rachel had been hit in the
stomach by a little boy using an iron bar, but now claimed to have seen it
herself. A defense attorney for Gray brought up a boy named "Ryan," who Brandie
had briefly mentioned during her interview with Detective Ruelas, while listing
the kids who lived in the trailer park. Brandie said Rachel used to talk about
a Ryan who was always being mean to her.
Brandie also said that Rachel's older brother, Jonathan, used to sleep in the
same room as the girls. When he entered the room, Rachel would say, "Can I
sleep with you, Brandie?" A defense attorney asked if Jonathan ever tried to
touch Brandie in a bad place. She said he did once, and she told Gray. After
that, her dad built a separate room for Jonathan on the other end of the
In her 2002 affidavit, Bowman said she never attempted to contact Jonathan,
"although he was both a potential suspect and a potential witness." Years
later, as part of Jones's federal habeas appeal, attorneys collected sworn
affidavits from several people at the Desert Vista who said that girls were
afraid of Jonathan. Jones's niece Tera said that both she and Brandie had
experimented sexually with him, but she thought it was possible he???d molested
his little sister since she believed he could not control himself.
In 1 affidavit, Elisha said Jonathan chased girls, touching their breasts or
grabbing them between their legs. "He was very rough," she said, "and he went
after the little girls as well as those of us who were a little older." A
neighbor said that she had found her 5-year-old daughter under a blanket with
him. Elisha's sister called Jonathan "the nastiest little pervert." But she
also said there were "lots of crazy, perverted people there."
Indeed, the same affidavits are rife with allegations of sexual abuse by adults
at the Desert Vista. One man named Bob was a known "molester" who was "always
saying 'hi'" to Rachel, Tera said. According to a 1993 report from the Pima
County Sheriff's Department, Brandie also accused a neighbor named Robert of
fondling her at the trailer park. And Jones's twin brother, Larry, had a bad
reputation among the kids, mainly for being mean and violent - but also at one
point for taking "inappropriate showers" with his stepdaughter Chelsea, Leann's
Chelsea is in her 30s now. She remembers the Desert Vista as a place where the
kids ran around barefoot and the adults all did crank. She has deep anger at
Larry for being abusive. Yet she recently began writing to Jones in prison.
"The one thing that's always stood out to me is that he always tried to protect
my mom," Chelsea told me. When Jones saw Larry harm her mother or the kids,
Chelsea said, the brothers would end up in a fistfight.
Today, Chelsea wonders if Larry should not have been an alternate suspect,
along with so many others at the Desert Vista. As Tera said in her affidavit,
Rachel was not shy. "She would go with almost anyone. Since Angela was always
sleeping off her highs, Rachel was unsupervised a lot."
The trial of Barry Jones began in April 1995. Angela Gray had recently been
acquitted of murder, with her attorney pinning Rachel's death on Jones. She was
convicted of child abuse and given 8 years in prison.
Superior Court Judge James Carruth presided over both trials. Sean Bruner,
Jones's defense lawyer, told me Carruth had a reputation for being a bit lazy
and going along with the state. "He liked to move things along real quickly,'
he said, an observation supported by the trial transcripts. While Bruner said
this hardly set Carruth apart from other judges, another veteran Tucson defense
attorney, Richard Lougee, was scathing. He told me Carruth had once spent a
major trial doing his taxes and reading Golf magazine. "His attitude toward
justice was aggressive indifference."
Representing the state was Kathy Mayer, head of the Pima County Attorney's
Special Victims Unit. A longtime prosecutor and advocate for gay rights, Mayer
was tough. She had navigated homophobic attacks from city council members in
the '80s and proved formidable in court. She also had a reputation for
integrity. "I've never thought of her as one of the sleazy attorneys in that
office," Bruner said, calling her "terrific." Lougee, who tried sex crimes
cases against Mayer for decades, compared her favorably to other prosecutors of
the era, while also describing her as an ideologue and "true believer." "She
tried people rather than facts," he said. "She was very good at what she did. I
had no reason to think she was dishonest in any way." But "once she became
committed to a case, she got tunnel vision."
In her opening statement, Mayer described what caused Rachel's death. She had
died from a condition called peritonitis, which is caused by a rupture of the
small intestine. As a result, fluids that are supposed to pass through the
intestines "leak out into the rest of our body, and it slowly poisons us," she
told jurors. It was a painful death - and it was not an accident, Mayer said.
"Who killed her? The state contends Barry Jones killed her." They had
eliminated "any other possible suspect."
The trial lasted just over a week. The state sought to prove that on the
afternoon of May 1, 1994, Jones had beaten and raped Rachel inside his van. To
prove it, Mayer called witnesses who said that they saw Jones coming and going
with Rachel. The time frame for each trip was shaky, based on loose estimates
from kids and adults. "A lot of people in this case that aren't good at telling
time," Mayer was forced to tell jurors by the end. But it all happened between
2 p.m. and 5:30 or 6 p.m.
Particularly important was Becky, Rachel's sister, whose statements continued
to evolve. At her mother's trial just a few weeks earlier, where she had cried
on the stand, Becky repeated what she had always said - that her sister had
taken 2 trips with Jones and that she seemed OK when she came home. But
testifying against Jones, Becky suddenly said there had been 3 trips. She also
recalled seeing bruises on Rachel's face and hands. She had never mentioned
these before. Finally, she said Rachel acted scared of Jones, who sometimes hit
her while they played. "Barry would want a hug and Rachel wouldn't go there,"
The Lopez twins also took the stand. Both were asked to act out the part of the
man with the messy hair hitting the little girl while driving the van outside
the Choice Market. Ray Lopez said the girl was crying, but he could not see her
face - and he did not recognize the van when shown a photo. His sister, Laura,
said she saw the girl's face "a little" and could see her eyes watering. But
their mother, Norma, testified that her children were sure of what they had
seen. "They came running in - they were out of breath and anxious to tell me
the story," she testified.
If anyone inside the Choice Market saw something suspicious that day, the state
did not call them to testify. In fact, there is no hint in any of the police
reports that anyone from the Pima County Sheriff's Department ever visited the
store. Yet the state did call an employee from the Quik Mart, where Jones had
said an EMT had looked at Rachel. The employee said a man with a little girl
had come in for some ice during her shift - but not at the time when EMTs from
the fire station usually stopped by.
On April 12, 1995, Sonia Pesqueira took the stand. She had recently been
promoted to sergeant. In Bruner's opening statement, he said there was no
physical evidence to show Jones had raped and killed Rachel. It was up to
Pesqueira to prove the opposite.
No semen or pubic hairs had been found to show Rachel was raped. But a
serologist had testified that there were trace amounts of blood (too little to
effectively analyze) found on the shirt Jones was wearing the day of his
arrest, along with small stains on his jeans. The latter matched Rachel's blood
type. Small amounts of blood had also been found on and around the passenger
seat of the van, some of which also matched Rachel. With Pesqueira on the
stand, Mayer would use the blood evidence to show that Jones had beaten Rachel
during the third trip in the van, then raped her behind her seat, leaving an
"impression stain" on the carpet.
Pesqueira readily admitted that she was not an expert in bloodstain
interpretation. But she had once attended a weeklong workshop on the topic in
Scottsdale, Arizona. Asked by Mayer to help the jury understand the "terms [of]
art that you use to differentiate maybe one type of stain or spatter from
another," Pesqueira said that bloodstains could be matched to different
velocities, for example. "Because I am not qualified as an expert to say what
velocity they are, I could say I could appreciate what type of stains they were
in relationship to where the victim could have been and the assailant could
have been," she said.
It was confusing. It was also well outside the bounds of Pesqueira's expertise.
At one point, Bruner objected. Carruth said her claims sounded "awfully
speculative to me." But he let her proceed. Pesqueira walked the jury through
the photos to show how, when Jones struck Rachel in the passenger's seat, blood
from her head would "spatter out."
Pesqueira also analyzed photos of Rachel's bruises, sorting newer ones from
older ones based on their color and appearance. Another photo showed that
Rachel had "linear contusions on her lower abdomen below her rib cage." These
were "consistent with pattern injuries," in which a tool or instrument leaves
an impression on human skin, she said. Mayer asked if Pesqueira found an item
that was consistent with the pattern in the photograph. "Yes, I did," Pesqueira
said. A pry bar was discovered under the van's driver's seat.
Jurors found the forensic evidence compelling. Hildegard Stoecker remembers the
blood in the van and on Jones's clothes as "the main thing" she found
convincing. "But you can read that 2 different ways," she said. "Now I look
back at it and realize, well, that could've been just simply from him carrying
her and her being in the van - it doesn't necessarily mean that he killed her."
Bruner did not call any expert witnesses to challenge Pesqueira's testimony.
Nor did anyone explain the unreliability of eyewitness accounts from children,
or the pitfalls of assessing injuries based on observation alone. Finally, and
most crucially, there was no expert witness who could counter the state's
theory about the timing of Rachel's fatal injury.
Instead, Bruner called just 1 witness for the defense: 12-year-old Brandie
Jones. Since her father's arrest, Brandie had moved from one relative's house
to another and attended four different schools. From the jury box, Stoecker
felt sorry for her. She remembered seeing Brandie in the restroom before she
testified, going through a trash bag filled with clothing given to her by a
defense attorney. "She's going through these clothes trying to figure out what
to wear," Stoecker said.
Brandie repeated the claim about the boy and the metal bar. Mayer easily
cross-examined her, pointing out inconsistencies in her statements. Stoecker
and others felt Brandie was just trying to help her dad. A juror named Odessa
Poles remembers being disgusted at Jones and Bruner for putting the child in
On April 14, 1995, Jones was found guilty. Bruner was not surprised. "It was a
tough case," he told me. The evidence had been weak, but "Barry's the
boyfriend, he's a drug addict, you know, he kind of fit the stereotype, he
lived in a really run-down part of town. It was kind of stacked against him, I
guess you could say."
If Bruner remains dispassionate about the conviction, it's probably because he
was always ambivalent about his client's innocence. In an affidavit signed in
2002, Bruner said he could not explain why he did not do more to investigate
the case. "In retrospect," it reads, "it is possible I just assumed Mr. Jones
was guilty based upon the state's version of the case."
There was another factor stacking the case against Jones. Jurors had been
screened for their willingness to impose a death sentence, although their job
was solely to determine whether Jones was guilty. Studies have long shown that
"death qualified" juries are more likely to convict. In Jones's case, this
meant any jurors with lingering doubts could still vote for a guilty verdict,
while psychologically distancing themselves from the implications. As Stoecker
recalls, the possible death sentence loomed heavy over the jury. Yet Poles was
shocked to hear that Jones ended up on death row. She believed in his guilt,
she told me. But "I don't feel that his lawyers fought hard enough for him or
to really prove his case. ... If I had had his lawyers, I'd rather have shot
myself in the foot myself."
Poles was deeply affected by the trial. It began on her granddaughter's
birthday, she repeatedly recalled. Years later, after leaving Arizona and
falling into a depression, Poles realized she was still hanging on to the
memory of the trial. "And my therapist tells me, 'You've got to let it go,'"
she said. "I can't let it go." It's not that she's gripped with hatred toward
Jones. She just cannot get over what was done to Rachel Gray.
Poles and Stoecker both told me about encounters they had following the trial
that assured them they did the right thing. Poles said she got on the elevator
with Mayer, who told her that "certain evidence was withheld from us that we
didn't know about." The implication was that it further proved Jones's guilt.
"But she never did tell us what it was."
Stoecker had a much stranger story. Days after the trial ended, she said, she
ran into someone from the prosecutor's office in the checkout lane while buying
groceries. Stoecker said it was a woman - she thought it was a prosecutor - but
could not recall who exactly. Regardless, "she recognized me," Stoecker said,
and mentioned evidence against Jones that had not been presented at trial. "But
the evidence was that [Rachel] did regain consciousness" at the hospital, she
said, and that before she died, "she claimed he basically assaulted her."
The claim made no sense. The emergency room doctor estimated that Rachel died
hours before she arrived at the hospital. Nor was there any reason such
evidence would not be admissible at trial. However irrational, it made Stoecker
feel better, at least temporarily.
Over email, Mayer declined to discuss the case. But she wrote, "I would never
have told a juror or anyone else that Rachel had regained consciousness at the
hospital," she wrote, "so that conversation did not happen with me."
The road from Tucson to Florence, Arizona, takes you out of the shadow of the
Santa Catalina Mountains north to Highway 79. 2 lanes lined with saguaros
become Pinal Parkway, and soon, the Arizona State Prison Complex is impossible
to miss. A long perimeter fence runs right alongside the road; at the
intersection is the Blue Mist Motel, where relatives of death row prisoners
sometimes stay the night before an execution. A trailer park houses workers
across from the sprawling complex. In some ways, it resembles the Desert Vista.
Florence's claim to fame is as the ultimate prison town. There are nine
penitentiaries within a roughly 1-mile radius, both public and private. Each
new prison project has brought promises of economic stability, but the local
benefits are hard to discern. On a hot Saturday afternoon in September, the
storefronts on Main Street were shuttered or empty. At the one open store - a
cluttered thrift shop - pamphlets advertised jobs with the Arizona Department
At the Pinal County Historical Society and Museum, a glass display features
nooses used for hangings, alongside black and white photos of the condemned.
Beneath it, there's the double execution chair used in 1934 to kill 2 brothers
simultaneously in the gas chamber. Since Jones has been on death row, 33 people
have been executed in the state, all but one using lethal injection.
In 1997, the year the Arizona Supreme Court upheld Jones's conviction, he and
others on death row were moved to Special Management Unit II, a new, high-tech
experiment in punishment and isolation. The Tucson Weekly described how
prisoners were "divorced from natural light except for the 3 hours a week spent
alone in a narrow, concrete recreation pen." Men were soon suffering
psychological breakdowns. For Jones, who had a history of depression, the
conditions would drive him close to suicide.
Others choose to hasten death with the help of the state. In 2000, Arizona
killed Donald Miller, a "volunteer" who gave up his federal appeals. Among the
witnesses to his execution was Sonia Pesqueira. She had investigated the murder
that sent Miller to die. In a 2001 MSNBC documentary, Pesqueira expressed
contempt toward his decision to "quit," saying it was proof of his character.
Another witness featured in the film was a young, skinny defense investigator
named Andrew Sowards. After the execution, he gave up murder cases for a while.
But in 2008, Sowards went to work with the Arizona Federal Public Defender's
Office, arriving just as Jones's federal habeas petition had been denied. As he
traced the investigation to its origins, Sowards became increasingly convinced
that Pesqueira - the same cop who had spoken so coldly about his old client -
had helped send an innocent man to die.
In 2009, Sowards got access to the county attorney's file in Jones's case.
"They claim to have an open file policy, and I wanted to go take a look," he
told me. The first box he opened contained a bunch of tapes. At the top was one
that nobody in his office had ever seen. "It had never been disclosed, we
didn't have a copy of it in our file, we had never heard of it," he said.
The tape featured a 1995 interview between a Pima County sheriff's investigator
and 2 young brothers. "Do you remember me, from seeing me before?" the
investigator asked the older boy. She asked about an old injury on his chest.
"Ryan, my brother, he took a piece of stick and sliced me," the boy answered.
He said it happened when his family was living somewhere else.
Sowards realized something was wrong. Ryan was the same child rumored to have
hit Rachel with a metal bar, the boy whose mother abruptly abandoned the
trailer park after Rachel's death. His own parents had described him as a bully
- and he was the same size as Rachel, despite being half her age. The tape
certainly did not prove that the child was responsible for her death. But had
it been disclosed to the defense before trial, as prosecutors were obligated to
do, the tape would have provided critical corroborating evidence for Brandie's
testimony, possibly generating reasonable doubt among jurors. Instead, the
state concealed the fact that they ever investigated the alternative scenario.
In her closing statement to jurors, Mayer mocked the story about "the little
boy who killed her with this sort of accidental thing with the metal stick."
Sowards began obsessively pouring over the evidence. He tracked down a woman
who had lived at the Desert Vista and briefly appeared in a report by Detective
George Ruelas. She told Sowards that police had "grilled" her 2 young sons back
in 1994, asking whether either of them hurt Rachel. But, like the interview
with Ryan's brother, this was not documented in the case file.
When Sowards sought to speak to Ruelas, he found him in a federal prison,
convicted in a drug heist committed while working as a California Highway
Patrol officer. Sowards wrote him a letter. He asked about several gaps in the
investigation, including whether he or anyone else ever visited the Choice
Market. Ruelas never replied.
Other critical pieces of evidence had long been missing. Among them were the
blue panties that Rachel had been wearing when she was brought to Kino
Hospital. Sowards was told by Pesqueira that they were most likely destroyed.
But eventually, a portion of the underwear was found and tested for DNA, with
no match to Jones or anyone else.
Litigation over the missing evidence and DNA testing led to a delay that would
prove crucial for Jones. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Martinez v.
Ryan. Until the ruling, onerous procedural barriers governing cases like
Jones's dictated that, if attorneys failed to bring a claim of ineffective
assistance during state post-conviction proceedings, that claim was forever
barred from being heard in federal court. But Martinez carved out an exception,
holding that if such a claim was itself the result of ineffective lawyering by
post-conviction counsel, a defendant could have a new shot at relief.
A paralegal with the Federal Public Defender's Office had reviewed the billing
records from Jones's post-conviction attorney. Several key files were not
mentioned. The records suggested the attorney did not even read the full case,
let alone thoroughly investigate it. In 2014, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
remanded Jones's case to a federal district judge, who reopened the door to
federal court. As Jones's current attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender
Cary Sandman, explains, "If his case had actually proceeded more rapidly
through the system, in theory, he might have faced an execution before 2012 and
had been dead already."
But for all the missing evidence and holes in the investigation, perhaps the
most important discovery made by Jones's legal team were key changes in the
testimony of Dr. John Howard, the medical examiner who was a state witness
against both Gray and Jones. Just weeks apart, Howard gave conflicting accounts
about the timing of the injury that killed Rachel. At Gray's trial, Howard
estimated that both the vaginal injury and the fatal intestinal wound were
"most consistent" with occurring 24 hours or more before Rachel died. But when
he took the stand against Jones, Howard testified to a shorter time frame,
concluding that the injuries were consistent with being inflicted 12 hours
before Rachel???s estimated time of death - precisely the window offered by the
state for Jones's trips in the van with her.
The failure to confront Howard is one mistake Bruner readily admits. He had
attended Gray's trial, he just did not pick up on the discrepancy. "I could
have cross-examined him on that 24-hour/12-hour thing, and I missed that,"
Bruner told me. "It's an important case, I should have caught that, and I
In 2004, Howard provided Jones's previous federal appellate attorneys with an
affidavit explaining his testimony. "When I testify, I answer only the
questions that are asked," he said. If trial attorneys had asked whether
Rachel's fatal abdominal injury could have happened "more than 24 hours before
her death, I would have answered the question in the affirmative." Howard was
unaware that Rachel had been described as looking sick as early as Saturday,
April 30, 2 days before she was brought to the hospital. Her symptoms would be
"consistent with the abdominal injury being inflicted prior to that time,"
A slew of additional experts has since dismantled the medical evidence heard by
jurors. Dr. Janice Ophoven, a renowned pediatric forensic pathologist who 1st
reviewed the tissue slides and other evidence from Rachel's autopsy in 2002,
has long insisted that her intestinal injury "could not possibly have been
inflicted on the day prior to her death." She emphasized that "the veracity of
this evidence is as scientifically precise as any forensic determination in
medical science." Dr. Mary Pat McKay, who first studied the same materials in
2009, says there is "absolutely zero evidence" that Rachel's fatal injury
occurred within 24 hours of death. And in an affidavit signed earlier this
year, Dr. Phillip Keen - who was initially contacted by Leslie Bowman in 1994
to review the autopsy report, but never called to testify - said he agrees with
Ophoven and McKay: "Rachel's small bowel laceration was not inflicted on May 1,
1994, and thus Jones's jury was misled to believe otherwise."
Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer speaks to University of Arizona
students during the "With Conviction: Science in the Courtroom" workshop at the
University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. The
workshop educated journalism students and aspiring science writers on the
importance of forensic science in the courtroom.
In 2009, the same year Sowards found the tape hidden in the Jones file, the
National Academy of Sciences released a landmark report raising questions about
the reliability of a wide range of forensic practices. Of particular concern
were disciplines based on "pattern matching," which rely primarily on visual
observation. The report singled out bloodstain interpretation as one such
field, relying on analysis that is "more subjective than scientific."
There was never much doubt that Sonia Pesqueira had testified outside of her
expertise at Jones's trial. The NAS report cast further doubt on her analysis.
But in fact, it was worse than that. On the stand, Pesqueira said her training
in bloodstain analysis had been taught by a woman named Judith Bunker, who held
workshops for "law enforcement agencies and detectives worldwide." This was
true - Bunker was once lauded as a pioneer in blood interpretation; in 1980,
the Fort Lauderdale News marveled at the "44-year-old grandma who is the only
blood spatter analyst in Florida." But while Bunker's pupils went on to testify
at trials, capital defense attorneys would find that she had grossly
exaggerated her credentials, claiming to have years of technical experience in
an era when she was working as a secretary to a medical examiner.
Over email, Bunker said she is retired and proud of her work. "I will stand on
my background and training," she wrote. "My qualifications were accepted in
many courts throughout the country in bloodstain pattern analysis and
reconstruction." She added, "I cannot speak to what a former student does after
they left my class."
It is no surprise that Bunker was allowed to testify in courtrooms nationwide.
Although judges are the "gatekeepers" who vet expert witnesses, most do not
have the background to easily determine what is sound science and what is not.
The same is true of lawyers, on both sides. In Arizona, high-profile
exonerations like that of Ray Krone, sent to death row on bogus bite-mark
evidence, have forced prosecutors to admit that flawed forensic evidence can
send innocent people to prison.
In 2014, Pima County launched a Conviction Integrity Unit, tasked with
investigating claims of actual innocence. Veteran prosecutor Rick Unklesbay was
put in charge. The next year, Unklesbay joined Jones prosecutor Kathy Mayer,
along with Krone himself, on a panel to discuss wrongful convictions. Mayer
blamed the abuse of forensic evidence on "professionals acting
unprofessionally." Unklesbay stressed the need for prosecutors to police
themselves. After all, when an innocent person is sent to prison, Unklesbay
said, the real perpetrator "is free to offend again."
The Pima County CIU had yet to exonerate anyone in June 2017 when Cary Sandman
sent a letter to Unklesbay. It included a lengthy summary of the problems in
Jones's case, including the opinions of medical experts debunking the state's
timeline for Rachel's fatal injury. Sandman explained that, pending the outcome
of Jones's upcoming evidentiary hearing, he had been told by the Arizona
Attorney General's Office that Unklesbay would be involved in any potential
settlement of the case. He offered to meet and provide "any additional
information you may request."
In response, Unklesbay referred Sandman to the CIU's website. The application
guidelines were clear, he wrote: "The unit does not evaluate cases that are
still proceeding on any form of appeal." To Sandman, the reply was
preposterous. In capital cases, habeas appeals don't end "until the needle is
inserted," he said. "His response basically says to me that they'll never look
at a case that's in litigation - and in a death penalty case, that means their
office is just a sham."
Over email, Unklesbay said he would "for obvious reasons" review a death
penalty case involving an innocence claim. He said he did not remember his
correspondence with Sandman. "If Jones should lose, the CIU can get involved,"
A spokesperson for the Arizona attorney general declined to comment on the
upcoming hearing for Jones. In its previous letter to Sandman saying the Pima
County medical examiner did not dispute the findings of defense experts, the
office said it did not plan to call a medical expert of its own. Yet the
spokesperson told me it would be "completely inaccurate" to suggest that the
original theory of the crime is no longer supportable. Arizona appears ready to
defend its conviction of Jones. But it is not clear how.
In early August, Sandman deposed Sonia Pesqueira. She had recently retired,
with a collection of awards and press coverage chronicling her decadeslong
crusade for the state's most vulnerable victims.
Sandman showed Pesqueira the statements from former Pima County Medical
Examiner John Howard suggesting Rachel's fatal injury occurred at least 24
hours before Rachel died. "This is all new to me," she said. Pesqueira had
never consulted him on the timing of Rachel's injury. If she had known it had
possibly been inflicted before Sunday, May 1, 1994, she said, she would have
widened her investigation. Sandman brought up other holes in the investigation.
For example, he asked what happened to the clothes Rachel wore on the day she
was supposedly raped and beaten. They would potentially have significant
forensic value. But there was no record they were ever collected. Pesqueira
could not answer why.
When I first contacted Pesqueira for an interview in late August, she quickly
agreed. "Although this case was 23 years ago, the images of what I saw are
still vivid in my mind," she wrote over email. But when I arrived in Tucson in
September, she wrote that she had been taking care of her sick grandchildren
and had come down with a fever herself.
A few days later, I stopped by her house in a pleasant neighborhood on Tucson's
east side. The entrance had a striking view of the Catalina Mountains and a
sign reading "Bienvenidos." There was nobody home. After I left her a note,
Pesqueira sent a text message saying she was at the doctor's office but could
speak very briefly "because I will be busy after today."
Pesqueira stood by her investigation. She speculated that the peritonitis could
have taken effect faster in Rachel than in other children. She was 4 years old
but "itty bitty," no heavier than her own 2-year-old grandson, Pesqueira
recalled. She denied any rush to judgment and maintained her belief that Jones
is guilty. "He probably doesn't want to accept the reality of it, that he did
what he did," she told me.
A short drive from Pesqueira'a home, the East Lawn Palms Mortuary is dotted
with bright fake flowers, spaced in neat rows. Under a tree in an area called
the Garden of Love, a stone marker reads "Rachel Yvonne Gray, 1990-1994,"
carved with a shepherd and lambs. There are no flowers on the grave.
Angela Gray got out of prison in 2003. She declined to be interviewed. Years
ago, in a letter to Jones's post-conviction lawyer, Gray said she felt "the
jury gave him justice for the victim." But today, she no longer believes Jones
killed or assaulted her daughter.
In a 2009 affidavit taken by Jones's defense attorneys, Gray said she only ever
suspected him because of his lie about going to the Rural Metro and the fact
that he did not return to the hospital that morning in 1994. She said Rachel
called Jones her "Best Buddy Barry," and always wanted to tag along with him.
Finally, Gray reiterated something she had always insisted: that some of the
bruises seen on Rachel's body at the hospital and during the autopsy had not
been there on the night of May 1, 1994. "The morning that I found Rachel, I was
freaking out," Gray said. Carrying her from her bed to the van, "it is possible
that I hit parts of her body against objects in the house."
Jones has not spoken to Gray since going to death row. As his hearing nears, he
is cautiously hopeful about the possibility of freedom. He is also "scared to
death," he said. "That's not my world out there," he told me in a brief phone
call from prison. "This is my world in here."
Jones said it bothers him that while everyone has been focused on his appeals
for years, nobody seemed to remember Rachel, or the fact that her killer is
still out there. "It's been all about me," he said. In his letters from jail,
Jones used to describe visions of Rachel visiting him, either in dreams or
hallucinations. He wondered if others were haunted by her death.
"I mean, she didn't get to live a life, you know? That's the thing ... I
couldn't tell you much about her except she was just a sweet kid. She was crazy
about going to the store. She wanted to drive up to the store every time we
went up to Quik Mart. She wanted to be around the other kids. She wanted to
play. ... And right now, she'd be like 26, 27 years old, you know, and have a
family of her own and everything, you know? And these are things that I think
about, that I can't quit thinking about, that maybe nobody else thinks about."
(source: The Intercept)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
DeathPenalty mailing list