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Murder convictions plunge with Pat Jones as D.A.

In all four Houston County trials this year the verdict has been not guilty.
Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 12:50 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -In the nine years before Pat Jones became Houston County District Attorney not a single person charged by Dothan Police with murder got off scot free.

Since taking office in January 2017, Jones and his staff have lost over 50 percent of murder trials, according to statistics compiled by Dothan police and obtained by News 4.

So far this year, there have been four murder trials and all of them concluded with not guilty verdicts.

“It is very disheartening when you put in that much work, that many hours into an investigation and you lose,” said Dothan Police Captain Will Glover.

This losing streak is unprecedented.

In the past four months, jurors acquitted Douglas Armstrong of charges he killed a woman despite DNA that linked him to the crime scene.

A Houston County jury found Suctorah Duncan not guilty of murder, though bystanders saw her shoot a man.

Another jury acquitted James Johnson, Jr. Jones claims evidence proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

And a jury refused to convict Jatavion Collins, charged with beating Neal Barber in a drug deal that went very bad.

“I would have never believed that--never. It’s like something is in the drinking water,” is how Jones reacted to the streak of not guilty verdicts.

However, some believe Jones is to blame.

“I don’t feel like he was prepared. I think (the district attorney’s office) should have held off and waited longer (to go to trial),” said Michael Brown. It was his daughter, Tanisha Norton, that Johnson had been charged with shooting.

David Sommers, a retired radio personality and brother of beating victim Neal Barber, also has concerns about Jones presentation during Collins’ trial.

“I wish I could have done the closing arguments. I think (he) bounced around a little toward the end of the case, especially during closing arguments.” Sommers said.

The jury deliberated briefly before returning the not guilty verdict against Collins.

While Sommers is leery of how Jones presented the case, he praises compassion shown to his family by the district attorney’s office.

Dothan police records show Jones has tried 12 of their criminal death cases since January 2017 and seven of those ended in not guilty verdicts.

In contrast, his predecessor, Doug Valeska, did not lose a single murder case during his last nine years in office, per police.

Some murder cases prosecuted by both Valeska and Jones did conclude with convictions on lesser charges, such as manslaughter.

Jones claims his conviction record has nothing to do with lack of effort.

“We are working hard. Drive by (the courthouse) late at night and you will see me here preparing (for cases),” he told News 4.

And not everyone believes fewer convictions is his fault.

“He is very prepared. I think he did very good and focused on key issues, but I don’t think (he) had enough evidence,” said Adam Parker, Collins’ attorney.

The case against James Johnson also had issues. A medical examiner initially listed Tanisha Norton’s cause of death as suicide. He amended that cause to undetermined.

Suctorah Duncan’s attorneys convinced jurors she never intended to shoot Jeremy Sanders, who police said died attempting to break up a street brawl.

In the Armstrong case, 18 years passed between the time Debra Wilson died at a Dothan hotel and when Douglas Armstrong went to trial.

Captain Glover—and others agree---admits it is harder these days to convince jurors of guilt.

“They want video evidence, they want body cam (footage), I just think it’s a sign of the times,” he said.

Also, research indicates confidence in police nationwide is at its lowest level ever.

As for Pat Jones, he promises to turn things around. “(We’re looking) at what we can do to change our strategies.”

He will get a chance to begin a winning streak in May when Dentavious Givens, also charged with beating Neal Barber, stands trial for murder.

Barber’s brother, David Sommers, hopes for a different outcome. “We believe Neal will get justice.”

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