An Akron man had his bond set at $750,000 as he awaits a new trial later this year for what his lawyers say was a wrongful conviction in the 1993 slaying of Goodyear Heights retiree Neal J. Rankin.
Dewey Amos Jones III, 51, appeared in court Wednesday, accompanied by his two attorneys, during a hearing before Summit County Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands.
Jones has won a new trial, based on potentially exonerating evidence showing that his DNA was not found at the crime scene, after serving 19 years in prison for Rankin’s slaying.
A notorious jailhouse snitch, William G. Caton, now deceased, was the state’s star witness at Jones’ 1995 jury trial.
Caton testified that Jones confessed to the slaying while they were locked up together at the county jail.
Five years later, Caton was shot and killed by police on July 7, 2000, behind the wheel of a stolen pickup truck following a lengthy police chase.
The chase ended when Caton ran a stop sign at state Route 43 and Mount Pleasant Street Northwest and smashed into a minivan, killing two Marlboro Township children. They were on their way to swimming lessons with their mother.
Jones had six members of his family present in court at Wednesday’s hearing.
Afterward, his 22-year-old son, Rowdy Jones, a machinist from Barberton, hugged his girlfriend in an emotional embrace outside the courtroom.
He was just a toddler when his father went to prison.
“I think it’s a very tragic event, but I feel like things are going in the right direction, and he’s going to be proved innocent. It’s been way too long,” Rowdy Jones said.
Caton, he said, provided the primary evidence in the government’s case.
“The only reason my dad went to jail,” Rowdy Jones said, “was because of that evil man.”
He declined to comment further.
Chicago attorney Russell Ainsworth, who works with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, has joined lead counsel Adam VanHo, a former prosecuting attorney in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, on Jones’ defense team.
Ainsworth said the 1995 Summit County trial had “many of the hallmarks of wrongful convictions. It’s why we got involved on a pro-bono basis, to ensure that his case is tried on the merits and that he has his day in court.”
Much of the case against Jones, he said, involved eyewitness testimony and prison informants.
“Wrongful convictions have been studied, and over half of wrongful convictions involve instances of mistaken witness identification and false testimony from jailhouse snitches,” Ainsworth said.
“It’s not necessarily the prosecutor’s fault,” VanHo said, “or the fault of police. You have people who are willing to say anything to take a couple of years off their sentence.”
Rankin, 71, was bound with rope and shot to death inside his home in the Chapel Hill area of Akron on Valentine’s Day.
After the Ohio Innocence Project took up Jones’ case on the grounds of actual innocence, new DNA tests of crime-scene evidence found unknown samples of male blood on a piece of nylon rope used to tie Rankin’s wrists, a knife used to cut the rope and a section of fabric from the victim’s shirtsleeves.
Rowlands, in a July 2012 court order, granted Jones a new trial based on findings that the latest DNA tests failed to identify Jones or another police suspect, Gary Rusu, “as having been present in the house.”
Akron’s 9th District Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed Rowlands’ decision in July.
The judge set Dec. 5 as the tentative date for Jones’ new trial.
He remains in the county jail awaiting a full bond hearing at which the terms of release could be modified.
Micah Ault, special prosecutor from the state Attorney General’s Office, is handling the new trial. He did not comment on case details during Wednesday’s hearing.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.