Louisville Courier Journal
Published 2:34 PM EST Jan 13, 2020
Dayton Jones received a commutation of his sentence, not a pardon, for a brutal sodomy, meaning he must register as a sex offender for life, the Secretary of State’s office has determined.
A Kentucky statute relieves sex offenders from registration only if they are pardoned.
Gov. Matt Bevin’s Dec. 9 order for Jones listed "Pardon & Commutation" at the top of the document, but the body of the order says only that his sentence — 15 years — was commuted to time served.
A pardon forgives the offender for the crime, while a commutation reduces the sentence, leaving the conviction intact, said Louisville attorney Sheryl Snyder, an expert on state constitutional law.
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The wording in Bevin’s order for Jones — one of more than 650 the governor issued after he lost his reelection bid in November — appears contradictory and ambiguous, but the Secretary of State’s Office concluded it was a commutation only, spokeswoman Miranda Combs said.
Jones’ grandparents, Tony and Jackie Jones, who raised him and fought to keep him from being convicted of a sex crime that required him to register, did not immediately respond to a text about whether they will challenge the Secretary of state’s interpretation.
Bevin’s order, which allowed Jones’ release after serving only three years in prison, has been roundly criticized by the special prosecutor who won the conviction and Gov. Andy Beshear, who previously was attorney general.
The Courier Journal has reported that Bevin, who said he commuted Jones’ sentence because he was implicated only by co-defendants, missed key evidence, including a text message in which Jones implicated himself.
The newspaper also disclosed that the elected commonwealth’s attorney in Christian County, Republican Rick Boling, pressed Bevin for a pardon in a letter in which he made political allegations he later acknowledged were not true. Boling apologized but a current and former commonwealth’s attorney have said he should resign.
Jones, 25, was the oldest of four defendants who pleaded guilty in an October 2014 assault in which an unconscious 15-year-old boy was sodomized with a sex toy and nearly died from a perforated bowel.
Jones sought to have his conviction vacated, citing ineffective representation by his defense lawyer, but a judge denied his motion after a hearing last June, saying the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming and the lawyer did nothing wrong.
That evidence included a text message in which Jones wrote to a codefendant admitting he had inserted the dildo in the victim "a little" but he wasn’t the only one who did so.
Lifetime registration is mandatory in Kentucky for offenders convicted, released or registered after April 11, 2000, for the crimes of sodomy, rape and kidnapping of a minor.
No registrant may live within 1,000 feet of a high school, middle school, elementary school, preschool, publicly owned playground or licensed daycare facility.
Jones pleaded guilty to sodomy, wanton endangerment and distributing matter that portrays a sexual performance by a minor.
Also: Matt Bevin granted commutations to 336 Kentucky drug offenders. Nearly all were white
Currently, Jones is not listed on the sex offender registry. Offenders are supposed to be placed on it when they are released from prison, according to state law.
A Kentucky State Police spokesman, Sgt. Joshua Lawson, said its legal unit couldn’t immediately explain the omission.
“These are unique situations that very few people in that shop may have ever dealt with,” he said in an email.
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; [email protected]; Twitter: @adwolfson. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/andreww.