For the second time in two months, an innocent man is being released from North Carolina’s death row. Levon “Bo” Jones spent 13 years on death row after being convicted of the 1987 murder of Leamon Grady. Federal judge Terrence Boyle vacated Jones’ conviction and death sentence in 2006 after finding that Jones’ trial attorneys “utterly failed” to investigate the crime. (Read the Order here.) Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson, who tried Jones in 1993, vowed to retry the case. This week Hudson was forced to admit that he has no evidence against Jones, and is expected to ask the court to release Jones today.
From his appointment until a month before trial, Jones’ lead counsel – Graham Phillips – did virtually no work on the case. According to the District Court’s opinion, Phillips “interviewed no witnesses, filed no motions, sought no evaluation of Jones, and conducted no mitigation investigation.” Phillips did not even request the second counsel to which Jones was constitutionally entitled. The second lawyer, Charles Henderson, was appointed only upon the request of the District Attorney, less than a month before trial.
There was no physical evidence against Jones, and no eyewitnesses to the shooting. The State’s star witness, Lovely Lorden, was Jones ex-girlfriend. Although counsel’s strategy for the trial was to discredit Lorden’s testimony, they never interviewed her. Had counsel bothered to run a simple criminal record check, they would have discovered that Lorden had a number of convictions relevant to her truthfulness, including fraud and worthless checks. Counsel also failed to obtain all of Lorden’s statements to police, which were inconsistent with one another and with her testimony on the stand. Finally, counsel did not investigate Lorden’s history of mental health problems. Counsel failed to cross-examine Lorden about what she claimed to have seen, instead questioning her mainly about the paternity of her children.
Counsel never bothered to review the District Attorney’s file in the case, which contained evidence pointing to the guilt of another man. Allen Bizzell, who along with George Overton led police to Grady’s body, gave four very different statements to police. At first he said that he and Overton left work at 3 AM to buy beer for their boss from Grady. Then he claimed that Overton left work alone and returned ten minutes later with a six-pack he had stolen from Grady. Next Bizzell claimed that Overton left alone and returned acting strangely and asking Bizzell to tell the police that he had accompanied Overton to Grady’s house. FInally, Bizzell told police that Overton returned to work and told him that Grady had been killed, but suggested that they go to his house and “roll” him before calling the police. Overton, too, told different stories to police. He left town shortly after the murder, but was arrested within a week for rape.
From the District Attorney’s files, counsel could also have learned that Lovely Lorden changed her story about who accompanied Jones to Grady’s house that night. At first she identified Larry Lamb and “Tootie” Matthews as Jones’ accomplices. When it was revealed that “Tootie” had an airtight alibi, Lorden shifted her testimony to blame Tootie’s brother, Ernest Matthews. Across five statements, Lorden also changed her mind about the color of the car Jones was allegedly driving, how many shots were fired, what time the accomplices were picked up, and where else they went that night.
In April, Jones’ attorneys provided the court with an affidavit from Lovely Lorden in which she states, “Much of what I testified to was simply not true.” She further asserts that a detective coached her on what to say at Jones’ trial. Had trial counsel looked in the prosecutor’s file, they would have found an SBI surveillance tape of a conversation between Lovely Lorden and Larry Lamb, in which Lorden stated that the police were hassling her about the Grady murder and that she wanted to come up with a plan to save herself and Lamb. Lamb repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder.
Based on Lorden’s testimony, Larry Lamb is now serving life in prison. Ernest Matthews pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was released in 2001.
The Governor’s Office paid Lorden $4000 for her testimony. Will it pay Bo Jones for the 13 years she cost him?