A six-day long trial and roughly three hours of deliberations ended Tuesday afternoon with a not guilty verdict in the case of Vincent Wayne Jones, a Tennessee man accused of committing a rape and robbery in Waldorf back in 1993.
Eighteen jurors deliberated Jones’ 15 charges and ended up acquitting Jones on every single charge, including two first-degree rape charges and four first-degree sexual offense charges.
After the jury was dismissed, Jones shed tears in the courtroom as he embraced family members.
The case was cold for nearly 20 years until a cigarette butt tied to the crime was recovered and tested for DNA evidence. Fingerprint analysts linked Jones to the crime after his prints from a prior arrest were compared to those on the cigarette butt.
Jones was arrested in Tennessee in September 2018 and transported back to the Charles County Detention Center, where he was held without bond for nearly 18 months.
Jones was previously tried in May 2019 for the same crimes. The Maryland Independent previously reported that a hung jury was returned in that trial. A hung jury is one that cannot come to a unanimous decision required for conviction or acquittal, after an extended period of deliberation.
Jones’ recent trial took place before Charles County Circuit Court Judge H. James “Jay” West, who also presided over the first trial. Both sides rested their cases Monday afternoon and closing arguments were delivered between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.
Jones, now 52, was 25 when a described “white male with a hairy chest” broke into the apartment of a Waldorf teacher in July 1993 who was also burglarized two nights before. When the victim awoke, the man was allegedly in her bed holding a knife to her. The man then bound and gagged her with cloth strips and raped her two separate times.
After the first rape, the man allegedly berated the victim for her lack of security in her own home and made multiple verbal threats against her life. The man then allegedly made the victim wash the lower half of her body and subsequently raped her again.
After the rape, the victim’s car and additional cash were stolen and taken to Greensboro, N.C. The victim’s car was found abandoned a few days later and evidence, including cigarettes, was recovered and tested.
Suspects were initially developed in the case, including the victim’s then-current boyfriend and a man charged with another rape in Maryland. The two were subsequently ruled out when DNA evidence from the scenes did not match the two men.
Throughout the week, the jury heard from multiple current and former DNA analysts familiar with evidence in Jones’ case.
The evidence included cigarettes, Greensboro newspaper clippings with the same date the car was found, pubic hairs, cloth strips and a drinking glass. The analysts were employed at the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Charles County Sheriff’s Office and the Maryland State Police.
The evidence findings were examined for Y-STR DNA when standard autosomal DNA did not positively identify a suspect. Y-STR is a short tandem repeat on the Y-chromosome, which is only found in males. However, Y-STR is linked to all male members of a paternal lineage, and therefore cannot positively identify a single individual.
This argument was used by public defender Michael Beach, who along with public defender Molly Ryan protested that only partial DNA samples were linked to Jones. Beach also said that the source of the cigarette butt was never found, the key piece of evidence that led to Jones’ 2018 arrest.
After both the state and defense rested, Jones’ 1989 arrest was referenced. Jones was arrested and charged with trespassing in the same apartment complex that the rape and robbery would take place in four years later. Beach argued that because of the prior arrest, Jones would automatically be linked to any crime committed in the complex, even if he did not commit it.
In closing arguments, Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Pettersen walked the jury through the events of July 17 and July 19 of 1993 and the subsequent findings of evidence partially linking Jones to the crime. Pettersen referenced the Y-STR profiles from evidence that did not exclude Jones, as well as Jones’ family ties to Charles County and Greensboro.
Assistant State’s Attorney Jonathan Beattie, who aided in the prosecution, cited that Jones grew up and went to high school in the Charles County area, as well as his familiarity with the apartment complex where the crimes took place. Beattie asked the jury to consider the evidence as a whole, plus Jones’ ties to the areas where evidence was recovered.
Beattie reminded the jury that what the prosecution and defense tells them is not evidence and said that only two people could have had access to the victim’s car, the victim herself and the assailant.
“It comes down to this, you have heard all of the evidence,” Pettersen said. “The state is asking you hold him accountable.”
In the defense’s closing, Beach reminded the jury of the multiple DNA analysts who testified, including one who at first incorrectly described how many men a Y-STR profile could be linked to. Upon correcting herself, she noted that several more individuals could have the same profile.
Beach said that linking DNA is often a human decision and continually referenced times when FBI DNA analysts had made errors in the past. Beach also discounted Y-STR as “not real DNA like you see on TV,” as the database that was searched excluded roughly half a million men.
“They are trying to use not-real DNA to identify an innocent man as a rapist,” Beach said. “Do not let that happen.”
Beach said there was “no excuse” to not provide where the cigarette butt came from. “We’re not suggesting he is being framed, but we don’t know where the cigarette butt came from, you don’t, that’s not okay,” he said.
Beach listed missing evidence, evidence that was destroyed because it was deemed not of value and the two separate crime scenes as reasonable doubts in the case. Beach said the modus operandi of serial rapists is being careful and meticulous and that the victim’s apartment was thoroughly cleaned while her recovered vehicle was not.
Beach dismissed the prosecution’s argument about Jones’ ties to Charles County, stating that no evidence placed Jones in the state of Maryland in 1993. Beach concluded by quoting a man that was exonerated by DNA evidence after already serving prison time.
“Don’t let the state’s lack of evidence convince you into explaining it,” Beach said. “The state is going to swear up and down that he did this. They are wrong.”
After the verdict and the dismissal of the jury, West announced that Jones would be returned to his family shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday.