A New Sentence for Shelton Jones

The Walls Unit, where executions in Texas take place, was built by enslaved people and white prisoners. Photo courtesy of A. Finch.

Dear Supporters,

Our client Shelton Jones has received a life sentence. Shelton was sentenced to death in 1991 for the shooting death of a Houston Police officer; the officer was shot after stopping and frisking two Black men who were walking down the street at night (there was no articulable justification for the stop).

Shelton Jones’s case tells us everything we need to know about why the modern death penalty has been called “a direct descendent of lynching.” Before Shelton’s trial, the Houston Post published a letter urging that Shelton be lynched. The author expressed longing for the Jim Crow days when racial-terror killings were commonplace across Texas: “The two men who shot him should get a fast trial and then be put out of circulation of the rest of time. I know they don’t do that in Texas anymore, but a tall tree and short rope would be very appropriate.” At Shelton’s sentencing, police officers packed the courtroom, sending a strong message that the jury should sentence Shelton to death.

Texas Defender Service represented Shelton in his appeals, and got his death sentence overturned; a federal court ruled that Shelton’s death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment because the jury was not allowed to consider mitigating evidence that Shelton did not deserve a death sentence. Shelton has now been resentenced to life in prison, due to incredible advocacy by our partners at the Gulf Region Advocacy Center, who represented him in his resentencing.
While we are relieved that Shelton will no longer be facing the prospect of execution, the fight is far from over. In Texas, we’re in the heart of our country’s history of racial terror. More than 8 in 10 lynchings occurred in the South, and now more than 8 in 10 executions occur here, with Texas leading the nation in the number of people executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s.

And in Harris County, Texas, where Shelton was sentenced, 21 of the last 22 people sentenced to death are people of color. Most of them are still on death row.

Thank you for supporting us in our fight to confront racial injustice and excessive punishment in our criminal-legal system.

With gratitude,

Burke Butler
Executive Director
Texas Defender Service