Pro Bono Work Leads To Father’s Release From Life Sentence

Clifton Jones was convicted of killing his son CJ in 2007 after the infant died of “shaken baby syndrome,” which is considered child abuse and occurs when a child suffers whiplash as the result of frenetic shaking. This can occur in as little as five seconds and normally causes severe brain damage. Pro bono work eventually led to Jones’s release from California Soledad State Prison, where he would have likely spent the rest of his life.

The pro bono duo, Keker partner Khari Tillery and firm associate Anjali Srinivasan, were joined by Northern California Project Innocence attorney Paige Kaneb. They were presented the Pro Bono Heroes award for April 2021 after they convinced the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office that he had been convicted on misleading or incorrect information as the result of scientific data that has since changed a great deal.

Their request? Jones should be released immediately, and then resentenced based on fairer charges.  

Tillery said, “This is the highest and best use of my law degree, to represent people who have had the weight of the criminal justice system unfairly leveled against them.”

Srinivasan said, “I don’t think we can ever really deliver justice for Clifton. We’ll never be able to right that [15 years in prison]. But it feels good to at least give him a second chance.”

Many adults have been convicted of manslaughter or murder on the assumption that they physically abused their infant children — but the medical community now has a greater understand of the additional factors that can cause shaken baby syndrome to present. You can visit website if you grew up after suffering shaken baby syndrome. 

A number of these convictions have since been overturned based on new information.

Zavion Johnson was convicted of murder when his 4-month-old died in 2001 — but Tillery and Kaneb won his release in 2017. He had argued that his daughter slipped through his arms to hit her head. The prosecutors didn’t believe him. According to them, the injuries were the result of shaken baby syndrome.

After new medical research was acquired nearly two decades later, the same experts who spoke for the prosecution rescinded their previous testimony to say that the injuries could indeed have been incurred due to a fall.

Jones said that CJ’s injury was the result of a fall as well — but prosecutors didn’t believe him, either. He was convicted by a unanimous jury decision for involuntary manslaughter. The same jury was split over whether or not he committed child abuse homicide, however, but after a retrial he was found guilty for the second charge. Because of that second trial, he would not have been eligible for parole until the year 2027.

Eventually, the District Attorney acknowledged the changes in medical science and dropped the second charge. Jones was released with time served. 

Tillery said that he and Jones were able to then visit his child’s grave: “It was incredibly gut-wrenching and also very beautiful. Clifton was arrested the day after his son died. He could never properly grieve the loss of his child.”