Maleek Jones wins release from prison amid pending appeal
After spending more than three decades in prison, Maleek Jones was released from state custody Thursday while his 1995 conviction on murder charges heads to a federal appeals court.
A judge vacated his conviction in August, ruling Jones didn't receive a fair trial. The state now plans to challenge that ruling.
In the interim, Jones will live with a family member in North Carolina, experiencing his first period free from incarceration in nearly 31 years.
Speaking outside the federal courthouse Thursday, Alex Taubes, a civil rights lawyer in New Haven who represented Jones, said his client is grateful the court granted the request, but he faces a difficult process ahead.
“He still has the state appealing, trying to put him back in prison,” Taubes said. “He’s still going to have very severe restrictions on his liberty … And of course, he can’t get back the 31 years he was separated from his family.”
Over more than a decade, Jones filed a series of state and federal habeas petitions. The state and the federal courts dismissed all of those attempts, for several reasons, including that Jones hadn’t exhausted all state level appeals.
In the latest proceeding, U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall denied two of Jones’ claims — that the state failed to disclose a plea deal with a key witness, and failed to obtain testimony from a ballistics expert — but found that the court at Jones' trial mistakenly excluded testimony from a witness who said he heard a man confess to carrying out the attack with someone other than Jones.
The state has since filed a notice indicating it will challenge the decision. A lawyer from the Office of the Chief State's Attorney said the state does not object to Jones being released while the appeal plays out.
The state has yet to describe the grounds for that appeal.
"The case is being appealed, and at this time there's no further comment," said Alaine Griffin, a spokesperson for the Chief State's Attorney's Office.
Jones entered a federal courtroom Thursday wearing an orange prison uniform, with his wrists and ankles shackled, and took a seat beside his attorneys. Numerous family members and supporters were seated behind him, including his mother and adult son.
He emerged onto the street more than two hours later, wearing a new outfit, and grinning as he embraced family and friends.
Jimmy Cooper, a New Haven resident who shared a cell with Jones for seven years, was among those in attendance. He said supporters were ecstatic to see Jones walk free.
“The family’s completely emotional,” Cooper said. “It’s been such a long time for justice for Maleek, and we’re just grateful and happy that this day is finally here.”
Jones has consistently maintained he did not commit the 1992 murder that resulted in his 65-year sentence. Jones said, and the judge agreed, that his trial lawyer failed to effectively represent him by not investigating testimony from a witness who was with the victim just minutes before he was killed. That witness said there were two shooters, instead of three, as claimed by a key witness for the state.
While he awaits the appeals court ruling, Jones was ordered to remain on GPS monitoring and observe a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for an initial period of 60 days, subject to review. He was also ordered to maintain employment, abstain from using drugs, and avoid direct or indirect contact with victims or witnesses without prior approval by a probation officer.
Discussing the conditions, Hall noted that Jones maintained a clean record while incarcerated, without a single infraction since 1997.
"All of that, I think, tells me there's not a high level of concern of danger to the community and risk of flight," she said.