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Lydia Diane Jones

Other Alabama Cases
In November 1997, Lydia Jones moved out of her home in Birmingham, Alabama, and moved into her parents’ home so she could care for her terminally ill father. Jones’s boyfriend, Ronnie Cook, moved into the home that Jones vacated and, unbeknownst to Jones, began selling marijuana and other drugs from there.
 
On December 10, 1997, Jones stopped at her old home to pick up some of her clothes, and while she was there, federal and local law enforcement officers raided the home and recovered a quantity of marijuana and cocaine. Four months later, Jones was arrested on a charge of possession of marijuana.
 
Jones went on trial in October 2000 in Jefferson County Circuit Court. By that time, federal authorities had charged Cook with drug trafficking and he had negotiated a deal to plead guilty and testify against other drug traffickers. Jones’s lawyers also represented Cook and their intended defense was to call Cook to testify that he was the owner of the drugs found in the house on the day of the raid—not Jones.
 
However, before Cook could be called to testify, Jefferson County prosecutors informed his lawyers that if he testified that the drugs were his, they would file state charges against him. As a result, Jones’s lawyers did not call Cook as a witness and Jones was convicted. Because she had three prior convictions—the result of a single instance of check forging to buy groceries for her family 17 years earlier—Jones was sentenced as a habitual offender to life in prison without parole.
 
In 2003, Jones requested help from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a non-profit group in Montgomery, Alabama that provides free legal assistance to indigent defendants. Her case was just a week away from passing a deadline that would have barred her from challenging her conviction.
 
EJI lawyers filed a petition seeking to overturn Jones’s conviction just days later contending that Jones’s lawyers had provided a constitutionally deficient defense at her trial because their simultaneous representation of Jones and Cook created a conflict of interest.
 
The petition stated that despite emphasizing to the jury in both opening statement and closing argument that Jones’s central defense was that the drugs found in her house were Cook’s, her lawyers “failed to elicit testimony of a single witness on direct examination to support this theory.” The lawyers also failed to investigate or present other evidence that Cook had access to the house after Jones had moved out, that he was in fact using the house, or that the drugs were his. The petition said that the failure to present such evidence was because Jones’s interest “in a reasonable investigation diverged” from the lawyers’ in protecting Cook.
 
The petition was denied in 2004, but in April 2005, the Alabama Court of Appeals reversed the decision, vacated Jones’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that the conflict of interest had resulted in Jones trial being constitutionally unfair. On August 17, 2006, the prosecution dismissed the charges and Jones was released.
 
– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/24/2014
State:Alabama
County:Jefferson
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1997
Convicted:2000
Exonerated:2006
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Female
Age at the date of crime:40
Contributing Factors:Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No