Michael J. Malloy, Esq.
Criminal Defense Attorney, Media, PA
I was contacted in June of 2016 by Eric Evans on behalf of his Uncle Leroy, who was incarcerated in Delaware County Prison. Leroy had filed a pro se motion to have the physical evidence from his 1981 trial be tested for DNA. The law allows individuals to make such requests if, at the time of their trial, current DNA testing methods did not yet exist. By early 2016, Leroy had been assigned a court-appointed attorney, but Leroy and his family were concerned that there was no action being taken on his petition.
I expected my first visit to meet Leroy would be fairly routine. I knew that he was in prison for the infamous “Avon Lady Murder.” He and I would discuss in person whether I could be hired to represent him and to see if I could move his petition forward.
From the first moment I met Leroy, I realized he and his case were different.
It’s hard to explain, but as I’ve told everyone since I’ve become involved in this case, if you want to change your mind about this case, whether you’re a prosecutor, police, or simply a concerned citizen, just go meet Leroy. When I came home that evening, I kept telling my wife: there is something about this guy, I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about this guy…
I pulled the transcripts from Leroy’s original trial and began to read them.
It didn’t take long before major questions arose.
Anthony Jones, a 16-year-old with a criminal record, had testified that Leroy, a 23-year-old navy veteran with a job, a family, and no criminal record, lured Mrs. Leo into Jones’ home, strangled her with a rope, and beat her unconscious with a clothes-iron on Jones’ kitchen floor. Witnesses to the body, the police, and the coroner all agree that the wounds would have caused massive amounts of bleeding. The crime scene would have been horrific.
The problem throughout the entire trial in 1981 is that there was no blood in Jones’ kitchen! The police arrived at the scene less than an hour after the murder, yet there was no blood anywhere. When a search warrant was executed, no one recovered an iron. Where was all the blood? It simply made no sense to me as I read the transcripts.
So I reached out to Anthony Jones, because I knew something else unusual by this point…
When he was first arrested in 1980, Anthony Jones had named Leroy as his co-conspirator, but when it came time for Leroy’s first hearing, Jones refused to testify. He claimed that he did not tell the police the truth that first night. Jones did eventually testify to his initial story at trial, and in return, the District Attorney removed the death penalty.
Jones called me from prison a few weeks after I had first reached out.
I asked him, first and foremost: how was there no blood in his kitchen? His answer was both shocking and yet, almost expected: “because the murder did not occur in the kitchen.”
I asked if Leroy was involved in the murder; he said “no.”
Then I asked to speak with him in person; he agreed.
I hired a local court reporter to come with me to the prison to record anything Jones might say.
When I met with Jones, we discussed recording him. I also told him if he wanted to have a lawyer, I would not speak to him further. But he said he wanted to speak to me. So we began.
Anthony Jones confessed that day to the murder of Mrs. Emily Leo. He described in detail how he had planned and committed the act, and how he had done it alone. His description matched physical evidence from 1980 that had either been ignored or hidden during the original trial. He explained that he did, indeed, strangle Mrs. Leo in the house, but he dragged her body to an empty lot where he hit her with bricks, causing the injuries later attributed to the clothes-iron.
The next day, I traveled out to Delaware County prison to tell Leroy that Jones had exonerated him.
To know Leroy is to know his quiet, gentle manner. He is kind, peaceful, and has seemingly accepted his wrongful conviction and the fact that he may die in prison.
When I told him of my conversation with Anthony Jones, Leroy cried, and he cried, and he cried. I was immediately afraid that he had misunderstood the impact of Jones’ statement; that he thought Jones’ confession would spontaneously release him from prison, so I grabbed his arm, told him to calm down, and explained that the justice system does not work that way. We could be years before we are done with this process!
He stopped crying. “Mike, Mike, Mike,” he said, “I know I am not getting out. I’ve made peace with my God. I know I am going to die in jail. You have done me a wonderful favor. I have spent my whole time in prison trying to find out what happened to that lady and how I got involved in this case. I just didn’t want to die without knowing what happened to that lady that caused me to have the life that I had, and I can’t thank you enough for giving me that answer.”
I’ve said to everyone that I’ve spoken to about this case that, in my career I’ve probably handled thousands of cases. I’ve tried over 300 jury trials and probably another hundred non-jury trials, and I certainly have represented people who were innocent of their crimes. I’ve been in involved in cases where death sentences and life sentences have been overturned for people who were wrongly convicted.
But there’s no-one like Leroy, and there’s nothing like his case.
I’ve told Leroy and his family that I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but Leroy, his family, and others who have become involved in this case have touched my life. Leroy, his mother, Alice, his wife, Rosemary. These people are walking examples of kindness and forgiveness. None of them harbor any ill will against anyone, including Anthony Jones. They have an unwavering faith that God will make all things right in this life, or in the next.
It is my hope that it will be in this life.
And so I have committed myself to this man and this case.