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Former Quincy woman suing Adams County Sheriff Brent York after wrongful conviction

October 2, 2019 GMT

A former Quincy woman wrongfully convicted of arson is now suing Brent York and the Adams County Sheriff’s Department.

Brenda Jones, who now lives in Florida, filed suit against York and the Sheriff’s Office in Madison. According to her complaint, Jones was wrongfully convicted of arson after her house in Quincy burned down.

Jones is claiming a due process violation, conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights, malicious prosecution, intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

“Her house burned destroying all of her worldly possession when she was 51 years old, suffering from cancer, legally disabled, and with disability as her sole source of income,” the complaint states. “The then middle-aged woman was forced to defend herself in a court of law, falsely accused and labeled an arsonist.”

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Jones was convicted in a two day trial, and sentenced to nine months in jail and seven years probation. Judge Daniel Wood overturned the 2016 jury trial conviction of Jones, now 56, Oct. 8 2018 on appeal.

“In violation of her rights to due process of law, the Defendants caused Ms. Jones to be charged with arson, and to stand trial for a crime she did not commit, to be convicted of the crime, and sentenced to incarceration and supervision for nearly a decade,” the complaint says. “Additionally, Defendant York withheld exculpatory evidence and lied in his trial testimony contributing to Jones’ conviction, and violated Jones’ rights to Brady material.”

A Brady notice, also known as Brady/Giglio, refers to the duty of prosecutors, under direction from the Supreme Court in the case Brady v. Maryland, to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence. In Giglio v. United States, the exculpatory evidence prosecutors are required to disclose expanded to include evidence that could be used to impeach the credibility of a witness.

This is not the first time York has faced allegations of Brady violations.

About one year ago, York was placed on leave during his run against then Adams County Sheriff Sam Wollin. Investigators looked into inconsistencies in York’s statements in a 2001 civil case in which York and the then-undersheriff were accused of breaking a jail inmate’s arm.

In the investigation, York provided three separate accounts of the alleged assault. York was given his first Brady notice by the Adams District Attorney’s Office Oct. 9 2018, informing him of evidence that could be used to impeach his credibility as a witness. He was put on leave Oct. 10 2018.

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The arson investigation into Jones was led by York. York initially determined Jones’ home burned down Feb 17, 2013 accidentally. The investigation was closed, but then reopened after York was contacted by Alan Onopa. Jones claims Onopa attacked her and tried to extort her for insurance claims payments.

Jones called the Marshfield Police Department and told them Onopa may contact the police and lie about the fire.

York was contacted by Onopa, and they made a phone call to Jones where Onopa threatened her with extortion once more. York claimed to have lost the recording, and never produced a copy for trial. York and Onopa did produce a recording that allegedly featured Jones admitting to lighting the house on fire with a match. Jones denied that it was her voice on the recording, and her complaint alleges York falsely testified about the recording. The complaint further alleges York did not get copies of the Marshfield police report stemming from Jones’ call, and York falsely testified at trial that Jones did not tell York that Onopa attacked her.

“York’s testimony was a lie and his assertions to the prosecutor in preparation for trial were lies,” the complaint says. “Once the (Marshfield police officer) Bornbach police reports came to light the ADA reopened and dismissed all charges against Ms. Jones.”

The complaint alleges the evidence which convicted Jones was “the manipulated evidence supplied by Investigator York that the fire was the result of arson and not an accident; and the hiding of exculpatory evidence by Investigator York.”

York defeated incumbent Wollin in the election Nov. 6, 2018. Sheriff York did not respond to a request for comment.