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WJBD - Local News - Anthony Murray Accepts Plea Deal for Seneca Jones Murder, To Be Set Free Wednesday from Prison

Anthony Murray Accepts Plea Deal for Seneca Jones Murder, To Be Set Free Wednesday from Prison

By Bruce Kropp, WJBD News

A 40-year-old Chicago man twice convicted of the stabbing death of a Centralia man by a Marion County Jury entered an alford guilty plea to second degree murder Tuesday that will release him from prison.  

Anthony Murray told Judge Sherrie Tungate he didn't stab Senecca Jones to death, but since he had been convicted twice by a Marion County Jury he did not want to risk a third conviction that would keep him in jail.  After accepting the plea, Tungate sentenced Murray to the 14 years in prison he has already served.  He will now go back to prison briefly to be assigned to a two year parole term before his release.  

Public Defender Tim Hewitt was assisted by the Illinois Innocence Project.  After working on the case for two years, Project Director John Hanlon believes Murray is innocent.  "It was a very weak case to begin with, and as it has gotten along, we think it's gotten weaker.  So it appeared to be a case that what we referred to as actual innocence, and we believe that after spending time with the case and the client that Mr. Murray is actually innocent.  We never know what juries are going to do, which is part of what happened here today.  We believe that if a video camera had been rolling, it would have showed that Mr. Murray was not involved in killing this man", said Hanlon.   

Hanlon says because Murray is an African American male from Chicago who has a criminal history and gang involvement he was behind the eight ball as far as Hanlon was concerned with a jury deciding the case.  Hanlon says he's not pleased with the decision, but understands that Murray made it because he wanted to go home to his family.   He thinks Murray should have walked out of the courtroom after being found innocent.  

State's Attorney Matt Wilzbach says he was also behind the eight ball because evidence in the case had become stale.  "The physical evidence was still primarily there, then kept by the court for the previous trial.  The witnesses however were another story.  Some we could locate; some we could not.  Memories fade after thirteen or fourteen years, interest fades; we were having a difficult time getting people to talk to us.  It's understandable, it's unfortunate, but it is understandable.  That was a chapter of their lives that they didn't want to get back into", said Wilzbach.  

Wilzbach says the evidence against Murray was never overwhelming and its hard to say if Murray could have been convicted a third time by a jury. 

The Second Degree murder charge that Murray pled guilty said he stabbed Jones with a knife knowing such an act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm and at the time Murray was acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation from Jones.  

Judge Tungate, in accepting the plea, said the court accepts there is sufficient evidence that would have resulted in Murray being found guilty.  While saying he had noting to do with Jones death, Murray did apologize in his statement to the court to the Jones family for their loss.  The stabbing death occurred in June 1998.  

Murray's first conviction was overturned when it was learned a member of the jury didn't disclose she had attended Jones funeral. The second conviction was overturned when Murray's defense attorney admitted making mistakes in calling certain witnesses that hurt Murray's case.  He was in court Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing for what was to be his third jury trial.  

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