By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Nov 12 (Reuters) - A man found guilty of
strangling his stepsister has had his conviction reduced from
murder to second-degree manslaughter.
Alan Jones, 31, of Oswego County was convicted in 2009 of
depraved indifference murder after being accused of strangling
his 11-year-old stepsister, Erin Maxwell, with a rope.
But in a unanimous decision released Friday, the Appellate
Division, Fourth Department, found the depraved indifference
conviction was legally insufficient because the prosecution had
failed to show that Jones acted with reckless indifference.
The court cited a 2010 Court of Appeals decision, People v.
Taylor, in which the court held that a "one-on-one" depraved
indifference murder conviction requires proof that the defendant
abandoned a helpless or vulnerable victim or engaged in
"The facts of (Jones's) case do not fit within either of the
fact patterns" in Taylor, the Fourth Department wrote in an
Both sides on Friday vowed to appeal.
Erin Maxwell in 2008 was found dead of asphyxiation in her
home in rural Palermo, Oswego County. State police discovered
that Maxwell and her family were living in squalor and that the
girl was locked in her room each day upon returning home from
school, according to court documents.
Jones was arrested and charged with depraved indifference
murder and the lesser-included offense of second-degree
manslaughter. He claimed at trial that Maxwell had accidentally
hanged herself and that he had discovered her body.
He was sentenced to 25 years to life.
The Fourth Department on Friday sent Jones's case back to
Oswego County Court for resentencing. He faces up to 15 years in
prison. While reducing the conviction, the court also found the
evidence sufficient to show that Jones had killed Maxwell.
The panel included Justices Eugene Fahey, Erin Peradotto,
Stephen Lindley and Rose Sconiers.
Maxwell's father, Lindsey Maxwell, and Jones's mother, Lynn
Maxwell, were convicted in 2009 of endangering the welfare of a
child and served two years in prison.
Oswego County District Attorney Gregory Oakes said at a news
conference on Friday that he will seek leave to appeal. He said
a key issue in the case is whether Jones's attack on Maxwell,
which lasted for about five minutes, was sufficiently
"prolonged" to qualify as depraved indifference.
"Whether a particular act was brutal or prolonged enough,
the appellate courts have never told us," he said. "Frankly,
we're left in the dark to guess."
Jones's attorney, John Cirando, said he also plans to appeal
the decision because he wants the entire indictment against
Jones thrown out.
The case is People v. Alan Jones, New York State Supreme
Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, No. 10-00399.
For the prosecution: Oswego County District Attorney Gregory
For Jones: John Cirando.
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