The 1995 murder trial against Elwood Jones was about as divisive as they come.
Mention Jones’ name to longtime members of the legal community in Hamilton County, Ohio, and there’s a good chance they’ll recognize the name.
“I’m telling you, this case had a stench about it,” said Cincinnati defense attorney Bill Gallagher, a staunch death-penalty opponent who followed the case as a local lawyer. “It had a feeling about it that there was evidence that was not the way it was portrayed in court, that it was something other than that.”
After a two-year, COVID-interrupted investigation, journalists with The Cincinnati Enquirer and USA TODAY Network’s award-winning, true-crime podcast “Accused” can confirm that some of the evidence shown to jurors was presented as more conclusive than it was.
But does that mean Jones is innocent?
Experience in augmented reality:Step inside the crime scene at the heart of ‘Accused: The Impending Execution of Elwood Jones’
Jones currently awaits execution on Ohio’s death row in the 1994 fatal beating of 67-year-old Rhoda Nathan, a New Jersey native who went to Blue Ash, Ohio, for the bar mitzvah of her best friend’s grandson.
On Sept. 3, 1994, that best friend returned to the women’s shared hotel room to find Nathan unconscious on the floor. When Jones was arrested a year later, police and prosecutors said they’d been waiting on forensic test results before charging their prime suspect.
That was misleading: Forensic tests were being conducted, but none of those straggling tests pointed to Jones as Nathan’s killer. Rather, the “smoking gun” evidence prosecutors pointed to during trial had been discovered within two weeks of the slaying, leading Jones’ supporters to ask: If that evidence against Jones was so strong, why did it take a year to file charges?
A college town killing, a dad vanishes:What happened in Seasons 1-3 of ‘Accused’ podcast
Jones, now 69, has maintained his innocence from the start, insisting that he’d been railroaded at best or, at worst, outright framed.
The original investigators and assistant prosecutor on the case are adamant that the right man was arrested in Nathan’s death, which received national attention when it was featured in an episode of the true-crime TV show “Forensic Files.”
“So we didn’t have any eyewitness. We didn’t have a confession,” said Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier, who handled the case against Jones. “But we had, to me, overwhelming circumstances that pointed to one person and one thing that happened. I like those cases better.”
“Accused” reexamines the case from start to finish through seven initial episodes, with an eighth episode expected this spring. Subscribers of The Enquirer and Cincinnati.com are able to binge the first seven episodes, without ads, starting Jan. 25. For non-subscribers, the episodes will begin dropping weekly Feb. 8. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.
Follow Accused on Twitter: @AccusedPodcast.
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