Edward Jones has a clear recollection of the moment when the jury foreperson read the guilty verdict that then seemed to ensure that he would spend up to 25 years in prison.
“When they said that, I didn’t really have any emotion. But when they put me in the little holding cell [in the courthouse], I cried like a baby,” Jones said in an interview Friday, a week after an appeals court overturned his manslaughter conviction.
“I couldn’t believe the jury couldn’t see I was only trying to protect myself,” Jones said of his self-defense claim, which was rejected by the Fulton County Court jury at his December 2007 trial.
“I was not the initiator ... the only time I hit the guy was when I was trying to get away,” he said. The all-white jury deliberated only five hours before finding Jones, a black man, guilty of second-degree manslaughter and first- and second-degree assault for the March 1, 2007, stabbing of 39-year-old David Lamphear of Northville. Lamphear died 15 days later from an infection.
Jones, then also 39, was dating Lamphear’s former girlfriend, Holly Walker, who was the mother of Lamphear’s child. There was no dispute that an intoxicated Lamphear attacked Jones with a board as Jones and Walker brought her two children, one from a prior relationship, for a visit, but District Attorney Louise K. Sira argued that Jones had a legal duty to retreat, even after Lamphear broke Jones’ arm and hurled racial slurs at him.
Jones said Friday that he was trying to get back in his pickup truck, but Lamphear was unrelenting in his attack. Finally, Jones said, he took out a folding pocket knife he carried at work and swung it at Lamphear. When Lamphear continued swinging the board, breaking out Jones’ truck window, he said he assumed that the 31⁄2 inch blade had entered Lamphear’s jacket but did not inflict injury. He said he was surprised later when he learned that the blade penetrated Lamphear’s side.
In a Feb. 26 decision, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution failed to disprove Jones’ claim of self-defense. The appeals court also rejected the prosecution argument, accepted by the jury, that Jones was in a position to retreat from the fight.
After Judge Richard C. Giardino dismissed the first-degree assault count as inconsistent with the verdict because it alleged intent, the possible 25-year sentence became 71⁄2 to 15 years.
Jones, now 41, spent the past year in the maximum-security Five Points Correctional Facility in Seneca County. On Wednesday, state corrections personnel put him on a bus in Geneva. He had been behind bars since the day of the incident.
Jones actually spent a few extra days in prison. He did not learn of the decision that freed him until two days later and then waited until Wednesday for the court to file the release order with the Department of Correctional Services.
But, Jones said he is not bitter. “When I got that letter, all I could say was ‘thank you, Jesus,’ ” he said. He said his Southern Baptist background (his mother, Loretta, is in the clergy in his hometown of Apex, N.C.) gave him strength in prison, where he worked in the library and spent free time reading the Bible and the Bible-based fiction of Tim LaHay.
“I’m a happy guy, anyway,” he said, explaining how he kept his spirits up to serve what was supposed to be long sentence. “And I never gave up hope … a lot of prayer and a lot of hope,” he said of being vindicated on appeal.
It was a odd chain of events that put him in Northville that day, Jones said. Routinely, Lamphear’s brother or a family friend picked up the two children in Gloversville and delivered them to Lamphear for visits.
When that did not happen March 1, he said, Lamphear called Walker and he asked that she persuade Jones to drive the children north.
Those circumstances still resonate with Jones because a Lamphear family member asked him at sentencing why he went there when he knew Lamphear did not like him.
“If I hadn’t been asked, I wouldn’t have gone,” Jones said. It was only later, he said, he learned that Lamphear made threats against him in a cellphone call Walker took on the way to Northville. If he had known Lamphear was intoxicated and making threats, he said, he would have turned around.
Jones said Lamphear clearly resented that he was dating Walker, but the two of them had never had a confrontation before that day. If Jones happened to answer the phone at Walker’s apartment, he said, Lamphear would call him the N-word. Once, Jones said, he complained to the police.
Still, Jones said, it was clear that Lamphear loved the two children and they loved him.
“I’m not the type of person to come between them,” he said, explaining his decision to drive the kids to Northville.
After the fight, Jones drove to the Northville Stewart’s shop, where he called state police. He waited about 25 minutes for a trooper to arrive, he said, and then called again, asking if he could start driving south to Gloversville. The dispatcher told him to pull over when he saw a patrol car heading north on Route 30 and flash his lights to signal.
Part way back to Gloversville, that’s what happened, Jones said. But when troopers got out of their two cars, they had their guns drawn and cuffed him, his broken arm forced behind his back.
Jones said the troopers were businesslike and he is not angry at them or at Sira, who he said obviously felt an obligation to the Lamphear family.
Jones said he understands because “I’m real sorry for their loss … I never wanted any kind of altercation with Dave.”
He came north several years ago with a Gloversville woman he met in North Carolina. They have a 2-year-old daughter together, Olivia Octavia Jones.
“I have to be in my daughter’s life,” he said of his decision to return to Gloversville.
He has been staying with friends and is looking for a job. “I’ve been working all my life,” he said, expressing regret that he had to turn to social services on his first day back.
It is already evident, Jones said, “that everybody’s picked up and gone on with their lives. I just have to pick up mine and go in the right direction,” he said.
“I made a few wrong decisions in my life,” he said. He said he regrets dropping out of high school in the 11th grade, though he later obtained a GED.
“I was rebellious,” he said, blaming himself for making his mother’s life difficult after his father left the family.
“My mother did her best,” he said. She took odd jobs, served as a minister and even learned to weld. Jones speaks of his absent father and his duty to ensure that his daughter does not suffer his experience.
In prison, he said, “I never had a dream about being locked up … I was always on the street, a lot of the time with my daughter.”
Jones expressed gratitude to Johnstown resident Michael Tibbetts, who wrote to him and visited him in prison, and to Fred Clark, the former Schenectady NAACP official who attended his trial and assisted in the appeal.
“I always feel elated when I can help somebody attain justice,” Clark said. “This is one case where the judicial system finally did the right thing.”