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Doubt cast on executed man's guilt

A DNA test on a single hair has cast doubt on the guilt of a Texas man put to death 10 years ago for murder.

The execution went ahead after then governor George Bush's staff failed to tell him the condemned man was asking for genetic analysis of the strand.

The hair had been the only piece of physical evidence linking Claude Jones to the crime scene. But the recently-completed DNA analysis found it did not belong to Jones and instead may have come from the murder victim.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, a New York legal centre that uses DNA to exonerate inmates and worked on Jones's case, said the hair did not prove an innocent man was put to death, but he said the findings meant the evidence was insufficient under Texas law to convict Jones.

Jones, 60, a career criminal who steadfastly denied killing off-licence owner Allen Hilzendager outside the town of Point Blank in 1989, was executed by lethal injection on December 7 2000, in the closing weeks of Mr Bush's term as governor and in the middle of the turbulent recount dispute in Florida that ended with him elected US president.

As the execution drew near, Jones was pressing the governor's office for permission for a DNA test on the hair. But the briefing papers Mr Bush was given by his staff did not include the testing request and Mr Bush denied a reprieve, according to state documents obtained by the Innocence Project.

Mr Scheck said he believed "to a moral certainty" that Mr Bush would have granted a 30-day reprieve had he known Jones was seeking DNA testing.

"It is absolutely outrageous that no-one told him that Claude Jones was asking for a DNA test," Mr Scheck said. "If you can't rely on the governor's staff to inform him, something is really wrong with the system."

Mr Bush had previously shown a willingness to test DNA evidence that could prove guilt or innocence in death penalty cases. Earlier in 2000, he had granted a reprieve to a death row inmate so Mr Scheck and other lawyers could have evidence tested. The test confirmed the man's guilt and he was executed.

Despite the DNA evidence, Joe Hilzendager, the murder victim's brother, said: "I still think he was guilty. I think they executed the right man."

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