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Court Vacates Murder Convictions

June 18, 1999

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ The slate was wiped clean for a death row inmate Thursday because it took the state 12 years to hold a competency hearing.

Ronnie Lee Jones, 43, has lived on death row since 1982. He was condemned for the murders of three Miami men fatally shot nearly two decades ago.

The Florida Supreme Court vacated Jones’ sentences and convictions in a unanimous unsigned decision.

``For 12 years and without explanation, the defendant sat on death row awaiting the competency hearing ordered by this court,″ the high court wrote, calling the delay egregious.

The justices, however, said the state could prosecute Jones a second time if he’s found competent to stand trial.

Jones represented himself at his 1981 trial and was convicted of shooting five men in a Miami home in July 1980. He was sentenced to life in prison for the two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Jones was ``pleased to get the ruling,″ said his Tampa attorney, Chris Coutroulis. The assistant attorney general in Miami did not return a call seeking comment.

In 1985, Jones’ appeal attorneys argued the former boxer and child abuse victim had been mentally incompetent to stand trial four years earlier.

They argued their client suffered organic brain damage as a result of being battered as a child and pummeled as a fighter. He also was shot in the head as a teen-ager.

In 1985, Jones came within two days of going to Florida’s electric chair before the state Supreme Court granted him an indefinite stay. The high court ordered the trial judge to hold a hearing into Jones’ claims that he had not been mentally competent.

That hearing, however, wasn’t held until 1997.

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