A not guilty verdict, handed down today in the case of Darrell Jones. Jones was on trial for the second time for the murder of a man in Brockton back in 1985. He was found guilty in that first trial and served more than 30 years in prison before being released in 2017, when a judge vacated his conviction and ordered him set free. Prosecutors brought the charges again, but the new jury has now acquitted Jones. Jenifer McKim with WGBH News partner the New England Center for Investigative Reporting has been following the Jones case. She spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard from Plymouth Superior Court. This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: So I understand the verdict was delivered just over an hour ago. It was pretty quick, wasn't it?
Jenifer McKim: It was very quick. The whole trial lasted less than three days. They rested in the afternoon and within about two hours, the jury came back and found him not guilty.
Howard: Did you have a chance to see his reaction to that verdict?
McKim: Oh, for sure. The judge basically told everybody to be very quiet when the verdict happened, and to not react in the courtroom. So Jones walked out of the court and was applauded by his supporters who were there. He came outside the court and talked immediately about plans that he has about talking about the criminal justice system. “I'm celebrating the fact that I'm free," said Jones. "But I don't celebrate that they set me free because they shouldn't have had me anyway. So there's really nothing for me to be celebrating about something that somebody did to me. You wouldn't be celebrating a burglar bringing back your stuff and saying, ‘Oh yeah, well, I just kept a chain, but I gave you the rest of the furniture back.'"
Howard: Jones has always maintained his innocence, and he had the option of taking a plea deal if he pleaded guilty to manslaughter. But he said 'No, I want this trial.' So walk us through this new trial. How did prosecutors make their case against Jones after all these years, more than three decades?
McKim: It was a remarkable trial in so many ways. My understanding is it's the first case that the state's Innocence Program has had that has been vacated only to be retried. There were witnesses who are deceased. There were other witnesses who had declined to come because they said that they didn't remember, and the judge said they were lying. So there were six people whose testimony was read in court, which was highly unusual, and did not allow the defense to try to contradict what they said.
Howard: So this is testimony that was given in the original trial, more than 30 years ago, and it was read into the record this time, in this re-trial?
Howard: With no witnesses on the stand, this is 30-year-old testimony. How was the defense able to counter? They couldn't really cross-examine.
McKim: They pretty much declined to participate; they did not do a lot. They were really forcing the prosecutors to prove a case, and they did not bring a lot to the table, because really they were saying all along there was not enough evidence to prove his guilt. The defense basically argued they got the wrong man, that there was no evidence to prove that he was the one who shot Guillermo Rodriguez, and one of the big key pieces of evidence was the fact that most of the witnesses talked about a shorter man killing a taller man. But the evidence shows that they were both about the same height, beside the fact that there was no motive and no physical evidence. So basically the jury went in and two hours later, came in and made him a free man.
Howard: Is there going to be any follow-up with this? A lot of time and expense was put into these two trials. Where does this leave Plymouth County, having lost this?
McKim: I'm not sure. I do know the defense and Darrell Jones are definitely planning to speak out. I'm guessing this is not the last we're going to hear from them.
Howard: That's Jenifer McKim with WGBH News partner the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, telling us about the case of Darrell Jones. Jones was acquitted this afternoon of a murder dating back to 1985. He had served more than 30 years in prison, but was released in 2017 amid questions of juror bias and tainted evidence. Prosecutors brought the case again, but the jury found him not guilty.