CINCINNATI (AP) — A man who spent a quarter-century on death row in the robbery and murder of a New Jersey woman at an Ohio hotel nearly three decades ago has been freed on bond while awaiting a new trial.
Elwood Jones of Cincinnati was convicted of aggravated murder, robbery and burglary in the 1994 beating death of Rhoda Nathan, 67, of Toms River, New Jersey, in Blue Ash, a Cincinnati suburb.
Police said Nathan, a grandmother in town over the Labor Day weekend to attend the bar mitzvah of her best friend’s grandson, was killed after she surprised a would-be robber in her room. Jones was a hotel employee and was on the job that day, police said.
The death sentence imposed on Jones was upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court. But last month, a Hamilton County judge granted him a new trial after concluding that prosecutors had not turned over evidence relevant to the case to his attorneys. County prosecutors have vowed to appeal the decision.
Officials said Jones, released from Hamilton County jail Saturday on $50,000 unsecured bond, will be under electronic monitoring and is barred from leaving the county.
“This is justice for the first time in three decades,” defense attorney David Hine said. Program manager Bekky Baker of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, which supported a new trial, said Jones had been behind bars “for like over 9,000 days for something he didn’t do.”
Prosecutors said in a statement that 10 courts had reviewed and upheld the conviction, and Jones' release was ordered despite a state constitutional prohibition on bail for those charged with capital offenses.
"The family of Rhoda Nathan and the people of Hamilton County deserve better than this,” the statement said.
Prosecutors also argued that Jones was a flight risk, but defense attorney Jay Clark said that wasn't the case given the stakes.
“When you’ve protested your innocence for 27 years and now you have a chance to establish it? You’re not going to take off,” he said.