For Dewey Jones, it was like landing a time machine in Akron.
He had never been on the Internet, and just learning how to answer a smartphone takes some getting used to. It has been only a few weeks, but Jones says he’s catching on.
And besides, anything is better than where he has sat the past 20 years.
“It’s a lot better than prison,” Jones told the Beacon Journal in an interview shortly after his mid-December release. “There’s a lot more room here than I’m used to.”
Prison is where Jones had sat since he was arrested in the 1993 slaying of a Goodyear worker. He always professed his innocence. The evidence against him was rife with questions: a jailhouse snitch was the state’s star witness; no physical evidence linked him to the killing.
Jones, now 51, said he never expected to be convicted, but he was. He didn’t expect to lose his appeals, but he did. Only through new DNA testing, the efforts of pro bono lawyers and a judge’s order did he win the chance at a new trial.
Last month, his bond was lowered to $300,000. An anonymous donor — a person Jones believes is a former inmate exonerated of a murder charge — posted the $30,000 needed to secure Jones’ freedom while he awaits trial in February.
He left the Summit County Jail with not even the clothes on his back. He had to leave his jail garb with deputies. So, his children — there are six — took off some of their clothes, allowing Jones to walk outside. A deputy gave him a pair of plastic jail slippers.
“I had nothing,” Jones said. “I was coming out in my socks.”
From the jail parking lot, Jones and a caravan of five cars made their way to the nearest church. Jones and his family were welcomed inside the Community Church of Christ on Grant Street, where he prayed.
“I told the kids I wanted to go and thank God for bringing me through this,” he said. “I’m trying to set a good example for my kids.”
Jones hadn’t cut his silver hair or matching beard for about three years after promising himself and God that he would do so only once he was free and could be baptized.
Upon his release, he looked more like a mall Santa than an accused killer. In fact, before going to his daughter’s apartment in North Hill, he made a stop at a dollar store to pick up a cheap watch. A child started to follow him outside, shouting, “Santa!”
“His mom kept saying, ‘No, no. That’s not Santa,’ ” he chuckled.
After he was convicted in 1995, his wife struggled and five of his six kids were sent into the foster system, Jones said.
Zack Jones, now 22, was just a baby when his father went to prison. He bounced around foster families until he was 18. The first time he met his father was in the county jail, where they were both inmates in 2010.
“He said, ‘Son, son’,” Zack Jones said. “And I looked over and I saw him and I said, ‘I don’t know that guy. Why is he saying that?’ Then he called me out by name, and I looked and thought, ‘That’s my dad.’
“That was the first time I actually met him face to face. It was pretty nice.”
For at least the next several weeks, Jones will be confined to his daughter’s small apartment, where he has greeted a steady stream of friends and family. He’s not allowed to leave without permission; an ankle bracelet monitors his whereabouts.
With help from the Ohio Innocence Project, Jones secured new DNA testing. The results failed to connect him to the crime scene, and a judge ordered a new trial. Prosecutors appealed but lost.
In her two-page decision, Common Pleas Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands stated that the absence of Jones’ DNA and that of another police suspect “calls into question the state’s entire theory of the case.”
Jones concedes he had many run-ins with police back in 1993, but he said he did not kill Neal Rankin, who was found bound with a rope and shot to death.
“I was a drug dealer and a drug addict. I was no angel,” Jones said, “but I never killed no one.”
While the new DNA tests excluded Jones, investigators found an unknown sample 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 Rankin’s shirt sleeves.
The evidence, according to the judge, also raises doubt of the chief prosecution witness, William Caton, who once testified that Jones admitted to the slaying. Caton, a career criminal, died in a shootout with police in 2000.
“I’m looking forward to trial because I know the truth will come out,” Jones said. “I’m fully confident it will come out.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.