Free Jonesy! Free Jonesy! Free Jonesy!
It's 9am at Otisville Correctional Facility, a medium-security lockup in the hills of Orange County, New York and several inmates known only as Juggy and Lou are chanting those words to Lebrew Jones, aka "Jonesy".
A correction officer in earshot chimes in, "Hey Jonesy, are you gonna be on the Oprah show? Let me know!"
Jones, a soft-spoken and obsequious 50-year old man was expecting his business to be tattooed all over the prison that morning. The night before, he was too anxious to get any sleep because he knew he would be featured in the local newspaper, "Times-Herald Record".
Jones is in the 21st year of a 22-years to life sentence for the 1987 mutilation and murder of a 21-year old prostitute, Michelanne Hall, affectionately referred to as "Micki". But here lies the twist---
He is innocent.
He's maintained his innocence througout his sentence and thanks to his belief in God, good fortune, and some savvy journalism, he's finally getting the opportunity to tell his story and hopefully be exonerated.
Christine Young, an award-winning investigative reporter with the Times-Herald Record first heard about Jones' case in 1989 as a journalism student at CUNY in new York City. While investigating an unrelated story she met Paul Clermont, a detecctive at the 10th Precinct in downtown Manhattan. young had heard about a brutal murder of a prostitute from Buffalo who was known on the streets as "Blue Eyes."
The details of the murder are gory. According to the THR, the half-naked body of Blue Eyes was found bent over a metal bar in a walle off construction site, face down, with an 8-inch section of scrap wood shoved inside of her vagina. Another piece of wood that fell to the ground tore a 2/5 inch hole in her rectum. A 2-inch rock was embeddged in her broken skill and a bloody white and yellow sock was stuffed down her throat. Her mud-and-blood streaked white leather jacket was pulled over her head.
Savagery. The technical term is necrophilia.
When Young quizzed Clermont about the particulars of the crime he grew perturbed and defensive. He abruptly ended the conversation.
Busy with school, Young eventually graduated from school and pursued her journalism career outside of New York.
Meanwhile, Jones was being portrayed as a monster--a savage--in a New York City courtroom. He was convicted of murder in the second degree on June 23, 1989. His words to the judge after the verdict was read were, "I didn't do that murder".
I met Jonesy in the summer of 2005 when I was transferred to Otisville from another prison in Utica, New York.
To me he was another insignificant inmate that had unique idiosyncrasies like everyone else. He wore layers of clothes (even in the summer), seldom conversed with anyone, and jogged EVERYWHERE. Otisville is a very large prison with a mountainous terrain. The distance from the messhall to the furthest housing unit is a mile each way.
Jonesy appeared to love the journey. Equipped with his no-frill white mid-cut sneakers, green state issued pants, a sweatshirt (this was his outer layer only), and a pair of biker-type shades Jonesy would trek the daily marathon by himself.
I thought he was weird, but ironically I began to follow his lead and traverse the prison in at a light pace.
"Jonesy, are you an innocent man?" I asked, commencing my in-prison interview with Jones.
Sitting with his legs crossed like a guest on Jay Leno, Jonesy unhesitatingly answers, "Yes, completely".
He says that he is not bitter because "being mad doesn't help me." The experience has taught him humility. He believes that harnessing animosity and anger is wrong. The completely gray-headed Jones is more convinced that the real perpetrator is out there somewhere laughing and needs to be caught; a job that the cops who arrested Jonesy did not do.
When the cops initially said that they would like to ask Jonesy a few questions about the murder he had a thought to run, but then reasoned, “Why run if I didn’t do anything?”
Those few questions resulted in a13-hour interrogation that led to nothing. The detectives in the case, James Lockhart and Paul Clermont (Jonesy sardonically refers to them as the “apostolic detectives” or “Mutt & Jeff”) were forced to let him go back to his job because Jonesy refused to tell them what they wanted—that he was the culprit.
Resilient and unconvinced of Jones’ claim of innocence, Clermont and Lockhart returned to Jonesy’s job where worked as security guard. This time, however, they were going to try a different strategy to break him.
Back at the precinct Lockhart struck Jonesy with a closed-fisted backhand after Jonesy wrote a statement affirming that he had nothing to do with the crime. Only the inside of Jones’ lip was swollen where no one could see the wound. Great police work!
After repeatedly ignored pleas of ran attorney and seven hours later, Jones eventually gave in because in his words he was “tired of the interrogation and just wanted to go home.”
Gullibly, Jones capitulated to Lockhart and Clermont’s insidious new strategy believing that they would let him go after he told them what they wanted to hear. Mutt & Jeff proceeded to feed Jones with the details and pictures of the crime scene and Jones regurgitated the information into several written statements and a video confession—the nail in the coffin.
Before Clermont left Jones alone in the holding cell, Jones attempted to reason with him one last time.
“Paul, you know I didn’t do this, right?”
“I know, I know. I’ll see what I can do for you. I’ll be right back,” Clermont responded as he walked away.
Clermont never came back.
After a trial that lasted approximately 1 ½ months, the Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office got a conviction. The presiding judge, Richard Andrias, was able to write another case off his loaded calendar because of an unwritten policy called judicial expediency—a necessary evil in the court system he would relate to the NY Times during a February 19987 interview. Jurisprudence in its finest hour.
Sipping a copy of cowboy style coffee (i.e., no coffee or creamer) Jonesy recalls what his mother said to him during his first phone call from jail.
“God is with you, especially since you didn’t do it.”
Those words have sustained the hopes of Jones during his 21 years in prison.
His decades in prison have been rocky. The frustration is written all over his face. He is sometimes seen thinking out loud—convincing himself that he will be released form this nightmare—someday.
All his attempts to appeal his case have failed. His petition to the governor for an executive clemency was unsuccessful.
Inmates have been cruel to him also. His sheepish demeanor is no match for hits lion-like jungle. About a year ago someone blanketed his bed with fresh fish while he wasn’t in the housing unit. How did Jonesy react?
He cleaned his bed.
When asked about his childhood he smiles. His father, Rufus, “Speedy” Jones, played with Count Basie and was called “the most exciting drummer in the world.”
“When I went to music supply stores with my mudder (sic) people would often recognize me as my fadder’s (sic) son,” Jonesy reminisces.
Jonesy inherited his father’s drumming talents and claims that his life would be much better if the hands of time were changed. His dream before this fiasco was to tour in a band and sell records.
Today his dream deferred is compensated with a walkman with which he listens to jazz, rock, blues, R&B, and some hip-hop. He likes to stay attuned to the music scene as best he could. He even attempted to start a prison R&B band, but a lack of participation by other inmates and his unwillingness to get involved with “jail politics”, quelled that dream.
Jonesy has different dreams now. He envisions himself as a free man. He wants to speak to people about issues that are dear to him and have been part of his experience throughout his incarceration. He wants to speak with youth at his old elementary school in Brooklyn P.S. 257 to let them know "that this [prison] isn’t the place to be”. Jonesy is also interested in telling the stories of the innocent men in prison, preferably at colleges. Lastly, he wants to use his platform to shed light on the unfair practices of the NYS Division of Parole because “they need to start letting the right guys go home.”
The fact remains that Jones will have spent a loquacious amount of time in prison, so is he ready to go home?
“Yes, I’m ready. These two decades have been long. Laughingly, he says, “I don’t want to get run over by a cab. The world is a lot faster than it was in 1987.”
Jonesy sees these the prison gates opening for him soon, hopefully this year. The efforts of Christine Young and their supporter’s are where his hopes rest.
Speaking of his life after prison, he states that he has a few jobs lined up. He has learned several trades during his incarceration such as: a/c & refrigeration, carpentry, carpet cleaning, and custodial maintenance. He doesn’t have any children now, but would like to have some when he is financially stable.
At 50-years old and 21 years of prison under his belt, Jonesy understands that he can never make up for lost time. Notwithstanding, he remains humble and appreciates the positives that he’s gotten out of this tragedy.
“I would never want to do this [prison] again, but I do value my experiences in prison”, Jonesy opines.
Before we conclude, he leaves me this warning for anyone wrongfully arrested:
Always have a lawyer present.
Don’t go for a deal [with the police or District Attorney].
Still sheepish and irritatingly courteous, Jonesy sums up his situation as “an innocent individual caught up in the system for no reason”.
If you want to contact reporter Christine Young, contact her at email@example.com. To learn more about the murder investigation and conviction of Lebrew Jones, go to THR-Investigations.com/Lebrewjones