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Jason Hall

Other Mississippi Exonerations
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On September 1, 2010, at about 5:30 p.m., 26-year-old Jason Hall went to the Spanish Oaks Apartment complex in Hattiesburg, Mississippi to visit his friend, Katie Jones. On the way, Hall picked up two others—David Pryor, a co-worker who also wanted to visit friends there and whose car was broken down, and Tommy Moore, a friend of Pryor’s whom Hall did not know.

When they arrived at the complex, Hall backed his SUV into a spot near the end of the building and went inside to visit with Jones. Pryor and Moore remained outside socializing with people.

Hall left Jones’s apartment between 7 and 7:30 p.m. and went to his SUV. He texted Pryor asking if he and Moore were ready to leave, but did not get a response. Hall waited for them, spending the time chatting with friends on his cell phone.

Not long after, Moore and Pryor came up from behind Hall and got into the vehicle. But before Hall could leave, several police cars arrived and boxed in the SUV. Police ordered the men out of the vehicle and then arrested them for burglarizing an unoccupied apartment in the building.

All three were indicted on a charge of burglary of a building. Moore fled the state and was never tried.

In July 2012, Hall went to trial in Forrest County Circuit Court. The apartment complex manager, Douglas Ralson, and his wife, Eulis Irene Cochran, testified that they called police after Moore and Pryor entered the vacant apartment at about 8:30 or 9:00 p.m.

They testified that when police began arriving, Moore and Pryor ran toward Hall’s vehicle where Hall was sitting. A windowpane in the vacant apartment had been removed and the door to the apartment was “messed up,” Ralson said. The apartment was vacant and was in the process of being remodeled. Ralson said there was no evidence that anything had been taken. The only items in the apartment were piece of tile, grout, a grinder, and a sawhorse. “There was really nothing in there for them to steal,” Ralson testified.

A police officer testified that as he approached Hall’s SUV, he saw two men running from the apartment and that one threw down a handgun, which was later found about 30 feet from Hall’s vehicle.

The defense presented photographs showing that Hall’s SUV was parked more than 50 feet away from the vacant apartment. Hall’s attorney argued that if Hall were helping Moore and Pryor burglarize the apartment, he would have parked directly in front of it.

Jones testified she was living with her sister, Constance Davis, at the complex and that Pryor was Davis's boyfriend. She testified that Hall gave Pryor a ride to Spanish Oaks so that Pryor could spend time with Davis.

After the prosecution and defense finished presenting evidence, Forrest County assistant district attorney Zach Vaughn requested that in addition to instructing the jury about the burglary charge, the jury also be instructed that it could convict Hall of being an accessory to burglary after the fact. When the defense objected that Hall was not charged with being an accessory after the fact, the judge asked Vaughn for an explanation.

Vaughn said, “Judge, I just got to thinking when the proof was coming through that if the jury happened not to believe — if they happened to believe Katie Jones, that this man went over there with just the knowledge that he was going over there to drop a buddy off that would certainly — and I would contend if they believe he’s not guilty of burglary. But when two of his buddies come back, (and) a gun is thrown out; it’s pretty obvious that a burglary has taken place. It's just if the jury happens to believe that he wasn't guilty of the burglary because he had no knowledge that his friends were going over there to do wrong, they became an accessory after the fact when they returned to the vehicle running, throwing guns” with the police on the way.

The judge overruled the defense objection and gave the instruction. During closing argument, Vaughn told the jurors that if they decided to acquit Hall of the burglary of a building charge, “that’s your decision…but he’s at least guilty of something.”

On July 12, 2012, the jury acquitted Hall of the burglary charge and convicted him of being an accessory after the fact. Hall was sentenced to five years in prison. Sometime later Pryor pled guilty and received a short prison term.

On December 12, 2013, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed Hall’s conviction, ruling that the jury should not have been instructed on the accessory after the fact charge. As a result, the court said, Hall was convicted of a crime wholly different from the crime alleged in the indictment, and was deprived of an opportunity to defend against it.

On July 11, 2014, the prosecution dismissed the charge and Hall was released.

Attorneys Samuel McHard and Marcus McLelland subsequently filed a lawsuit in Forrest County Circuit Court seeking compensation from the state of Mississippi. They obtained sworn affidavits from Pryor and Moore saying that they never told Hall that they had done anything wrong or that they had to hurry up and leave before the police came.

On November 18, 2016, a judge ruled that Hall was wrongly convicted and awarded him $126,509 in compensation. His attorneys were additionally awarded $35,000 in fees and expenses.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/26/2019
State:Mississippi
County:Forrest
Most Serious Crime:Other Nonviolent Felony
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2010
Convicted:2012
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:5 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No