09/29/06 — Duplin DA will eye next step for Jones

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Duplin DA will eye next step for Jones

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 29, 2006 1:49 PM

District Attorney Dewey Hudson will meet with State Attorney General Roy Cooper next week to decide what to do after a federal judge overturned a death sentence imposed on a Duplin County man nearly 13 years ago.

Levon Jones, who was convicted on Nov. 8, 1993, of the 1987 murder of Duplin County resident Leamon Grady, had appealed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on the basis that his counsel performed inadequately at both the guilt-innocence and sentencing phases of his trial.

And, in a 32-page ruling this week, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle agreed.

"Jones received two appointed attorneys that spent virtually no time or effort investigating the offense or his background," Boyle wrote in his decision. "Counsel's deficient conduct undermines any confidence in the jury's verdicts and renders fundamentally unfair both the guilt-innocence and penalty phases of Jones' trial."

Jones was convicted and sentenced to death after his girlfriend, Lovely Lorden, implicated him in the Garner Chapel Road robbery and shooting three years after the fact.

Boyle's ruling however, explained that Jones' counsel failed him on several levels.

During the guilt-innocence phase of the trial, despite the fact there was no physical evidence linking Jones to the murder, counsel did not take advantage of information available in the prosecutor's office showing the possible involvement of a third party, Boyle ruled.

The attorneys also did not perform a routine criminal background check on Ms. Lorden, the prosecution's star witness, and did not investigate the inconsistensies in her five pretrial statements or probe why it took her three years to come forward, the judge wrote.

They also did not question the inconsistencies in the stories of the two men, Allen Bizzell and George Overton, who found Grady dead in his home.

Then, during the sentencing portion of the trial, Jones' council made no attempt to provide the jury with mitigating evidence, such as his mental competence and background, Boyle ruled.

Since then, Jones has been diagnosed with mental retardation, delusional disorder and alcohol and cocaine dependence.

Even Hudson has said that the defense lawyers representing Jones have admitted they felt they were ineffective. And so, he said he's not surprised by the ruling.

However, he doesn't know if he's going to ask for a review by the Circuit Court of Appeals or not, explaining that because it's an old case, it could be hard to try.

"I think the fundamental point was that there was very little evidence supporting a conviction. This should never have come this far," said current defense counsel Ken Rose with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham. "When there are substantial doubts about whether somebody committed a crime, do you appeal to go forward with the execution, or do you allow a new trial to find out the truth?

"It's a very basic question. Do you want to risk executing an innocent man?"

For now, though, said co-counsel Mark Kleinschmidt, everybody is breathing a sigh of relief.

"The family is pleased with this outcome and continue to hope for the best," he said. "They've been praying for this for almost two decades.

"(Despite his cognitive impairment) Jones understands what's happened now, and he's very pleased," Kleinschmidt said. "It was nice to share the news with him after all this time."

Hudson has 180 days to decide whether to retry or re-sentence Jones. Otherwise Jones, who is being held in Central Prison in Raleigh, will be set free.