N.C. death row inmate to go free

When will the madness stop?

N.C. death row inmate to go free
Levon 'Bo' Jones won't be retried in the 1987 slaying of a Duplin County bootlegger
Mandy Locke
(Raleigh) News & Observer
Another North Carolina man once condemned for murder will walk free today.

Levon "Bo" Jones of Duplin County spent 13 years on death row, convicted of robbing and shooting a well-liked bootlegger. In 2006, a federal judge ordered Jones off death row and overturned his conviction, declaring his attorney's performance so poor that his constitutional rights had been violated.

Today, Jones will become the eighth North Carolina man spared execution after charges against him were dropped. Judges turned the inmates loose after discovering a variety of problems in their cases, ranging from hidden evidence to inadequate defense attorneys.

The latest release comes as the legal system is re-examining the use of capital punishment in North Carolina. The death penalty has been on hold in the state since 2007. It has faced several legal attacks, including a case that challenges doctors' participation in executions.

Jones was sentenced to die for the death of Leamon Grady, who was robbed and shot in his home in February 1987. After the federal judge took him off death row in 2006, Jones remained in prison awaiting a prosecutor's second try at a conviction.

On Thursday, Duplin County District Attorney Dewey Hudson decided to give up. He said he'll ask a judge this afternoon to drop all charges against Jones and let him go. A new trial for Jones had been set to begin May 12.

Hudson, who also prosecuted Jones in 1993, had planned to ask a jury later this month to send Jones back to prison for life. Then, his case crumbled. Lovely Lorden, the state's star witness and Jones' former lover, recanted her claims that Jones killed Grady.

In an affidavit that Jones' attorneys filed in April, Lorden said, "Much of what I testified to was simply not true." She said a detective coached her on what to say at Jones' trial and that of co-defendant Larry Lamb. She collected $4,000 from the governor's office as a reward for offering the clues that led to arrests.

Lorden's new testimony also casts doubt on the conviction of Lamb, who is serving a life sentence for Grady's murder. Another co-defendant, Ernest Matthews, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was released in 2001.

Hudson doesn't believe Lorden's change of heart.

"She's lied one time or another, then or now," Hudson said. Still, he said he won't risk taking Lorden before another jury.

Hudson still thinks Jones had a hand in Grady's death.

Jones' attorneys swear he is innocent.

"Any investigation in this case shows Bo didn't do it," Ernest "Buddy" Conner said. "She gave at least five different stories. She's been recanting to people for a while."

A judge's wrath

Two years ago, U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle had stern words for Jones' previous defense attorneys when he took Jones off death row. Boyle granted the relief after state courts failed to do so.

Boyle lambasted defense attorneys Graham Phillips Jr. and Charles C. Henderson for performance he deemed "constitutionally deficient." He criticized the lawyers for failing to research Lorden's history well enough to try to discredit her before jurors. He also said they had inadequately prepared to investigate Jones' mental health problems and troubled childhood in attempts to ask the jury to spare Jones the death penalty.

"Given the weakness of the prosecution's case and its heavy reliance on the testimony of Lovely Lorden, there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different."

Jones spent Thursday night back in his native Duplin County, in the county jail. Conner drove there to share the good news.

Conner said Jones smiled, saying simply, "I knew this day was coming."

(Staff writer Titan Barksdale contributed to this report.)