A federal inmate facing the death penalty, represented by Springfield attorneys Carver, Cantin & Mynarich, was spared his life on Monday after jurors could not reach a unanimous decision. Ulysses Jones Jr. will serve a life sentence after being found guilty for killing another inmate in 2006.
After nearly seven years of work on the case, the conclusion was exactly the desired outcome for the defense team – avoiding a death penalty sentence for Jones.
In the years leading up to trial, the defense had repeatedly attempted to negotiate a guilty plea for Mr. Jones to receive life sentences, and to avoid the risk and costs associated with a capital trial, but the government refused all offers to resolve this case. Trial began on September 25, and on October 16 the jury returned from deliberations with a non-unanimous decision regarding penalty, which under federal law requires that the Court impose a sentence of life without the possibility of release.
Shane Cantin said “he never feels more pressure as an attorney than to stand before a jury to plead for his client’s life.” Ulysses Jones, suffering from the effects of end stage renal disease, has been on dialysis since 1987. Thomas Carver said before the trial that Mr. Jones “would not live long enough to be executed even if he were sentenced to death.”
The verdict has received national attention and coverage in the Washington Post, New York Times along with numerous other media outlets. Federal death penalty cases are rare in the United States, even for experienced criminal attorneys.
The jury deliberation process in a federal capital prosecution is complicated. Before a death sentence can be imposed in federal court, a jury must unanimously find beyond a reasonable doubt a number of different factors specified in the Federal Death Penalty Act. If they find unanimously a sufficient number of these factors have been proven, they then must go on to consider whether or not the government has proven any additional aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt, and must also consider whether or not the defense has proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Findings of mitigating evidence do not require a unanimous agreement. Only after they have made all of the necessary findings are they then free to individually weigh this information and decide whether to vote for life, or for a death sentence. Any death sentence requires a unanimous agreement by the jurors. After 4 hours of deliberation, the jurors determined that they could not make a unanimous decision to impose death on Mr. Jones.
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The same jury had earlier convicted Mr. Jones of premeditated murder, and murder by a federal inmate already serving a life sentence, after hearing evidence that he had stabbed 38-year-old Timothy Baker on January 9, 2006. Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Baker were inmates at the U.S. Medical Center and were being housed in an open medical unit with approximately 16 other inmates when the murder occurred. Mr. Baker was serving a 72 months sentence for distribution of cocaine. Mr. Jones was serving life sentences for convictions in three prior murder cases in 1980, 1981 and 1984 in Washington D.C. and Virginia.
In support of another life sentence, the defense argued a number of mitigating factors including the negative effects of Mr. Jones’ extremely abusive and chaotic childhood, indications of childhood intellectual disabilities including childhood IQ test scores of 66 and 72. They also argued that as a child Mr. Jones received little or no educational and social interventions, and severe cognitive impairments suffered by Mr. Jones in a traumatic brain injury in 2007. Also, because of his deteriorating medical and mental conditions, defense expert testimony estimated that Mr. Jones had already outlived approximately 98% of the adult dialysis patient population, and had a relatively short life expectancy based on available U.S. statistical information.
Both Mr. Carver and Mr. Cantin argued throughout the penalty phase trial that these mitigating factor weighed heavily in favor of a life sentence being the most appropriate punishment for Mr. Jones at this time. While the government argued that Mr. Jones would be a future danger and that he had “earned” a death sentence based on his conduct and prior convictions, Mr. Cantin pointed out that Mr. Jones had, since the murder in 2006, been safely and securely controlled by the Bureau of Prisons including no contact with other inmates, placement in special isolated housing, and maximum custody restraints. “There is, ladies and gentlemen, no future danger,” Mr. Cantin argued.
Mr. Jones will be formally sentenced to life sentences but a sentencing date has not yet been set.