OSWEGO, NY – The Oswego County District Attorney’s Office is pleased to announce that the NYS Department of Corrections has denied parole to Alan Jones, who is in state prison for causing the 2008 death of his 11-year-old step-sister, Erin Maxwell, DA Greg Oakes said today (June 29).
An Oswego County jury convicted Alan Jones of Murder in the Second Degree in 2009, finding that he acted with depraved indifference to human life when he killed Erin.
Jones was sentenced to 25 years to Life on the murder conviction.
The case was prosecuted by Donald Dodd, who was the Oswego County District Attorney at the time.
In 2012, the state Supreme Court, Appellate Division (Fourth Department), reversed Jones’ murder conviction, holding that Jones did not act with “depraved indifference” when he took Erin’s life.
The appellate court reduced the conviction to Manslaughter in the Second Degree and returned the matter to Oswego County Court for re-sentencing on the lesser offense.
On re-sentence, Jones was sentenced to 5 to 15 years, the maximum sentence for Manslaughter 2nd.
As a result of the appellate court’s decision, Alan Jones became eligible for parole in June of 2013.
District Attorney Oakes wrote the parole board at that time, urging them to deny release. The Department of Corrections denied parole to Jones and set a new parole hearing date for June of 2015.
In April of this year, District Attorney Oakes wrote a strongly-worded letter to the parole board and argued against Jones’ release.
According to officials with the Department of Corrections, the parole board met last week to decide Jones’s case.
The hearing is closed to the public, including the District Attorney’s Office that prosecuted the matter.
In response to the parole board’s denial, DA Oakes said, “Alan Jones took an innocent life and is undeserving of any mercy. I’m relieved that the parole board recognized the monstrous nature of his conduct and acted appropriately.”
Oakes added, “Erin’s death was senseless and tragic, and as a matter of justice, Jones should serve every day of his sentence.”
Since Jones’ conviction was reduced in 2012, District Attorney Oakes has met with state legislators and asked them to amend the law governing depraved indifference so that killers like Jones can be held fully accountable for their crimes.
Oakes said, “The fact that Jones was eligible for parole is a tragedy, and the legislature must act so that justice can be obtained for victims like Erin.”
The Appellate Division’s decision to reduce Alan Jones’s murder conviction to manslaughter was governed by a series of cases in which the NYS Court of Appeals fundamentally altered the meaning of “depraved indifference.”
Prior to 2006, a jury would determine whether a defendant acted with depraved indifference using an objective standard, looking at the nature of the defendant’s conduct and asking whether a reasonable person would consider it to be brutal or heinous, or whether the conduct reflected “wickedness, evil or inhumanity.”
In 2006, in the case of People v. Feingold, the Court of Appeals abandoned the objective “reasonable person” standard and made depraved indifference a culpable mental state.
As a result of that decision, prosecutors must now prove what was inside the mind of the defendant at the time he committed the crime.
To convict a defendant of depraved indifference murder, prosecutors must show the defendant was completely and utterly indifferent to whether the victim lived, regardless of how despicable and morally reprehensible the conduct may have been. If a defendant renders any medical assistance to the victim after the fact, then he cannot be prosecuted for depraved indifference murder.
District Attorney Oakes noted that the Appellate Division’s decision to reverse Jones’ murder conviction was guided by the fact that Jones called 911 and attempted to perform CPR on Erin Maxwell, even though he had placed a rope around her neck and tightened it for several minutes.
“I don’t blame the appellate court, as they were constrained by case law. According to the Court of Appeals, a defendant can inflict all manner of cruelty upon a victim and engage in acts that are sure to bring about death, but it’s not murder if he calls 911 afterwards. It’s ridiculous, and it makes a mockery of our justice system,” Oakes said.
The DA argues that the Court of Appeals overstepped its role and legislated from the bench when it changed the law regarding depraved indifference.
Oakes points to the fact that Section 15 of the NYS Penal Law specifically sets forth four culpable mental states, which are “intentionally, “knowingly,” “recklessly” and “criminal negligence.”
“If the legislature had wanted depraved indifference to be a separate culpable mental state, it would be in that section. The Court of Appeals took it upon themselves to alter this important area of the law, and in doing so, the court has limited the ability of prosecutors to obtain justice in cases that clearly call for a murder conviction,” Oakes added. “Until the state legislature acts, we will continue to see cases where the punishment simply cannot fit the gravity of the crime.”
Focusing on the case of Erin Maxwell, Oakes said, “By any reasonable standard, Alan Jones acted with depraved indifference and should be serving a life sentence. On behalf of Erin, I will keep opposing his parole and fighting to keep him locked up. Erin deserves nothing less.”