Clifton Jones walked out of prison a free man after more than 15 years of wrongful incarceration for the tragic death of his infant son. That tragedy was compounded when Jones was wrongfully arrested and convicted based on medical evidence that has since been proven false.
Lawyers at NCIP and Keker, Van Nest & Peters presented the evidence of Jones’ innocence to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. After doing their own investigation, the DA’s Office agreed that Jones deserved to be free and filed a motion with the court explaining that the science had changed and that Jones has used his many years of incarceration to engage in programs and trainings to better himself and prepare for release. Jones is excited to return to his close-knit family. The first thing he wants to do upon his release is visit his son’s grave, which he has never been able to see as he was arrested before the funeral. Clifton wants to become a resource for others who are freed, helping them get back on their feet when they reenter society.
On April 14, 2021, Judge Bowman of the Sacramento County Superior Court ordered that Clifton be released.
On November 9, 2005, Clifton Jones became the proud father of his first and only child, whom he and his partner named Clifton Dewayne Jones Jr. and called “CJ.” CJ was two weeks early, and to his parents, he was “perfect.” Jones described seeing his son for the first time: “I was astonished, amazed. I couldn’t believe, you know, I’m sitting here looking at a precious life…. He was beautiful, and looking at my little beautiful boy, he was – I was happy, very happy.”
On December 13, 2005, when CJ was one month old, tragedy struck. Jones was carrying CJ and on his way to get a bottle for CJ, tripped and fell. Unable to break his fall, he and his son crashed into the wall and the back of CJ’s head hit the wall. Minutes later, CJ stopped breathing and Jones ran into the street and flagged down a passing car to call 911. Paramedics rushed CJ to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. CJ did not have a bruise or mark anywhere on his body. The autopsy revealed a skull fracture in the back of his head, along with tiny amounts of intracranial bleeding that doctors at the time believed to be associated with abuse.
The day after his son’s death, Jones was arrested and charged with murder and child abuse causing his son’s death. He was tried twice. At both trials, every lay witness testified that Jones was a loving and gentle father who would never intentionally harm his son. At both trials, the prosecution relied on testimony from medical experts that the only possible cause of CJ’s death was an intentional abusive act, and that the accidental trip-and-fall Jones described could not possibly have caused his son’s death.
That testimony was based on the medical consensus at the time, but that testimony has since been proven demonstrably false and the consensus has changed. Today, there is medical and scientific consensus that short falls, like the one Jones described, can cause serious head trauma and death.
Paige Kaneb, NCIP’s attorney on this case, said, “Clifton’s case is a tragic example of how courts need better resources to address faulty forensics and the nature of scientific study, which is constantly evolving and demonstrating past error. Every person who ever saw Clifton with his son agreed that Clifton was a great father who adored his son and was always calm and gentle with him. He spent 15 years wrongfully imprisoned because of expert testimony that has turned out to be completely wrong. And he’s not the only one.”
Starting in the 1970s, the medical community hypothesized and then came to believe that intracranial bleeding in infants was a sign of shaking. That evolved into medical professionals diagnosing “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) or “abusive head trauma (AHT) upon seeing intracranial bleeding in infants, especially in the context of brain injury or death. For decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors that short falls, such as described by Mr. Jones, could not result in such injuries. Doctors in turn testified, as they did at Jones’ trial, that it would take a multi-story fall to cause such injuries. However, many short falls that were independently witnessed or captured on video have resulted in these very injuries and also resulted in fatalities, proving the SBS/AHT testimony wrong. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a new position paper in 2020 advising doctors that it has been proven that short falls CAN indeed cause the intracranial injuries previously associated with SBS/AHT and can be fatal. NCIP is undertaking a project to identify cases in which parents and caretakers, otherwise described as good and loving, have been wrongfully convicted based on false expert testimony.