In February 1949, 25-year-old U.S. Army Private Hayden Jones was on furlough in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when he was arrested for molesting four boys, aged 11 to 14 years old. According to Jones, however, these crimes never took place. Instead, Jones claimed he was walking out of a Pittsburgh movie theater when a police officer grabbed him and threatened that if Jones did not pay the officer $1,000, which Jones reported that he refused to do, then Jones would be thrown in jail on trumped up charges.
Just four months after this arrest, in June 1949, Jones was on trial for sodomy, receiving stolen goods, solicitation to commit sodomy, and assault and battery. During the trial, the prosecution presented Jones as a sexual predator who ran a crime school for juvenile delinquents. The four alleged victims testified at trial. The jury convicted Jones on all counts in just thirty minutes.
Jones was sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison, but this sentence was extended to 30 years because of his misconduct while in prison. He was repeatedly in trouble for his defiance of prison authority, and he reported being beaten and tortured by prison guards who kept him in solitary confinement. Jones reported that he was not permitted to contact anyone, including the Army, which he said had reported him as AWOL.
In 1956, two of the four victims who had testified against Jones recanted their statements, signing written affidavits stating that the police officers had forced them to falsely testify against Jones. “The reason I testified the way I did against an innocent man was because of fear, coercion and intimidation by the police officers,” wrote one of the boys. However, the presiding judge dismissed these affidavits, and Jones remained in prison.
Another twelve years in prison passed for Jones. During this time, Jones’ wife, Patricia, and their three children were driving to visit him in prison when they were involved in a car accident. All four were killed. Two years passed before Jones was notified of their deaths.
In 1968, Jones met a prisoner named Thomas Weismantle. Weismantle, now a grown man, had long ago been one of the boys who testified against Jones at his trial. Agreeing to help Jones prove his innocence, Weismantle provided an affidavit for Jones’ hearing before Allegheny County Judge Henry Ellenbogen. Judge Ellenbogen also reviewed the 1956 affidavits that included recantations from two of the other three alleged victims and found that the evidence “lends strong support to the conclusion that… the verdicts against Jones are based, at least to a significant extent, on perjured testimony.” Jones was released from prison and the charges against him were dismissed on February 23, 1968.
Several bills were introduced to provide compensation to Jones, but, for various reasons, none ever passed. In 1995, at age 72 and suffering from emphysema and throat cancer, Jones was still seeking compensation. “All I want is justice,” he said. “You take a man’s life, you pay him back. I’m entitled to it. But I fear I won’t live long enough to see it through.” Jones died the following year, having never received any compensation for his wrongful conviction and 19-year imprisonment.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.