Note: This Enquirer story was written by Dan Horn with reporting help from Amber Hunt, who was in surgery during the ruling and texting like a mad woman to find out what was happening. Photos are by Amanda Rossmann.
A man who sat on Ohio’s death row for almost three decades will be released Saturday after a judge ruled he didn't get a fair trial and is eligible for bond.
Elwood Jones, convicted of a murder he says he didn’t commit, turned to his attorneys after the judge's ruling and said, "Thank you."
Jones has insisted since his arrest that he did not kill Rhoda Nathan in her Blue Ash hotel room in 1994. Judge Wende Cross, who set his bond Friday, ordered a new trial for Jones last month after concluding prosecutors withheld crucial evidence in his original trial.
Cross cleared the way for Jones’ release after a hearing Friday morning in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, when she set an unsecured $50,000 bond for Jones, which means he's not required to post any money and only pays if he fails to show up for future court appearances.
After he is processed through the probation department Saturday, he will have served 9,971 days behind bars for Nathan's murder.
The ruling came after an extraordinary and emotional hearing that included testimony from Nathan's children, who begged the judge not to release Jones, and arguments from defense attorneys, who said he is an innocent man who's been punished enough.
"The right person has never been charged. The right person has never been convicted," said Jay Clark, who along with attorney David Hine represented Jones pro bono. "For 27 years, he has maintained his innocence and fought for a new trial."
Prosecutors, Rhoda Nathan's family asked judge not to release Jones
Prosecutors said Jones doesn't deserve a new trial and vowed to appeal the judge's ruling. They asked Cross on Friday to keep Jones locked up on a $10 million bond until they get the chance to argue before an appeals court that Cross erred in granting a new trial.
Assistant Prosecutor Seth Tieger said Jones had a long criminal history before he was arrested for Nathan's murder, including burglary and assault charges, and warned that he was a risk to harm others or to flee if the judge released him on bond.
"The only thing that can stop him is prison," Tieger said. "He's 70 years old. He's got a lot of crime left in him."
Nathan's sons said granting Jones a new trial has reopened old wounds for their family. They said freeing him would inflict even more harm.
"The state has proven its case in appeal after appeal," Peter Nathan told the judge. "Please do not release him on bail."
Cross, however, said the standard for setting bail in a capital murder case in Ohio depends on whether the "proof is evident and the presumption of guilt is great." In this case, the judge said, prosecutors had failed to meet that standard.
In addition to his bond, Jones must wear an electronic monitoring device with GPS tracking, is not permitted to leave the county and is subject to unannounced searches by the probation department.
After the hearing, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said the judge made a big mistake, citing years of appellate court review upholding Jones' conviction. "It is shocking that a trial court believes they have the authority to ignore direct orders of a superior court," said the spokeswoman, Amy Clausing. "The family of Rhoda Nathan and the people of Hamilton County deserve better than this.
Why was Elwood Jones granted a new trial?
The complexity of Jones’ case and the evidence against him has drawn national and local media attention for decades, including from Enquirer journalists who reinvestigated his case last year for the newspaper’s true-crime podcast, “Accused.”
Cross, who criticized the prosecution’s “win-at-all-cost mentality,” said the undisclosed evidence called into question the jury’s guilty verdict in 1996.
“It is clear the failure to disclose the existence of relevant exculpatory and impeaching evidence prior to trial deprived Elwood Jones of a fair trial,” Cross said after granting him a new trial in December.
The case against Jones began with the discovery of Nathan’s body in her Embassy Suites hotel room on Sept. 3, 1994. The New Jersey grandmother, who was in town for the bar mitzvah of her best friend’s grandson, was found bloodied and beaten on the floor.
Jones worked at the hotel and was on the job the day she died.
The evidence against Jones included an infected cut on his hand that a doctor testified he likely got from striking someone in the mouth, bruising on Nathan’s body that prosecutors said matched Jones’ work radio, and a pendant discovered in Jones’ toolbox that Nathan’s family said belonged to her.
Since the original trial, Jones, his lawyers and others have challenged that evidence and have alleged police and prosecutors failed to pursue other leads and possible suspects.
Defense attorneys, in some cases backed by forensic and medical experts, say the evidence was not as conclusive as prosecutors made it out to be. They say the hand infection could have come from other sources, including Jones’ own mouth, and the pendant could have been put in the toolbox by someone other than Jones, who claims he’d never seen it before.
Prosecutors also did not share all the evidence they’d gathered during the investigation, which is a problem only if that evidence is relevant to the case.
The undisclosed evidence included Nathan’s active Hepatitis B infection, which defense attorneys say was crucial information because the highly infectious virus might have been passed on to someone who cut his hand while striking Nathan. Jones has tested negative for the virus.
Prosecutors also did not tell defense lawyers about another man’s supposed confession to the crime. Delores Suggs testified in December that before Jones’ trial in 1996 she called Blue Ash police to tell them she’d met a woman in the county jail with information about the case.
That woman, Suggs said, told her that her husband had killed a woman at the Embassy Suites in Blue Ash and framed a Black man for the crime.
Cross said those and other pieces of undisclosed evidence were relevant to the case and should have been shared with defense lawyers.
Former Prosecutor Joe Deters has said some mistakes were made during the trial, as they are in any trial, but that those errors didn’t undermine the jury’s guilty verdict.
After Cross’ ruling in December, Deters said that the decision to order a new trial was “offensive” and “ridiculous.”
It's exciting when either of my podcasts hits the top 100, even if they don't stay there long. (Apple's algorithm includes weighing new reviews, which is one of the reasons we podcasters often beg you to leave reviews for the shows you like!) When the new seasons of Accused and Crimes of the Centuries began dropping around the same time in January/February, they were briefly back-to-back on the list.
It's rewarding to see that the work I do, however sobering at times, is reaching people. You don't get any perks for being in the top 100, but when you're there, you tend to get more exposure, which helps spread word about these cases farther. And that's the whole point: to tell people's stories. To make sure they're not forgotten. To understand the impact their cases had on the world they left behind.
Also: I'm writing a COTC-themed book. I'm so excited (and also nervous about hitting my deadline) because I think it's going to be a really cool thing. It'll be published through Union Square & Co., whose vision for the book aligned perfectly with mine. I can't wait to get it out there. I'd love a whole series of these because I find it fascinating how cases intersect and how criminal cases can literally change society, which is the approach I plan to take.
Some people spent the pandemic of 2020 on house projects -- even I got a few of those done -- but my biggest accomplishment was creating a brand new podcast that I'm absolutely loving to research. Crimes of the Centuries is about cases that once upon a time dominated the headlines, but which aren't very well remembered today. The podcast debuted in October 2020 on The Obsessed Network, headed by two of the nicest guys in the biz: Patrick Hinds and Steve Tipton. The awesome Garrett Tiedemann engineers.
My aim isn't to just examine old cases for the hell of it, but rather to put those cases into historical context and to explain the mark they left behind. Some sparked new laws, some changed how autopsies are performed, and others were just so appalling that they changed public perception. The project marries two of my biggest interests: history and the impact crime has society. Please check it out wherever you get your podcasts.
Fun fact: A lot of the original music you hear in the podcast was written by my musician father, Bruce Hunt.
Amanda and I are admittedly a little nervous about a new venture we're launching, but we're excited, too. We've created a Patreon community in hopes it will give us an outlet for some content that doesn't fit in the Accused podcast feed but is still interesting to true crime followers at least. We're thinking we'll post extended interviews, bonus episodes and even an off-shoot monthly podcast that will look at the way the criminal justice system is portrayed in pop culture. (Hopefully this will be a sneaky and enjoyable way to teach people more about the system.) The off-shoot also aims to lay out some under-covered crimes as told by journalists who covered them. Sometimes that means Amber and/or Amanda will discuss a case that stuck with them, while other times we'll be talking with other journalists about cases they just can't shake.
If you're only interested in Accused content, that's just fine. We'll be posting our ad-free backlog over the next couple of weeks, and members will have early, ad-free access to new seasons as well. The first coming up is season 3, which we'll be teasing soon. It's set for a Dec. 3 launch on free platforms, but it'll be available early on Wondery Plus and on our Patreon page.
To get this content, please consider joining our Patreon community at www.patreon.com/accused. If you have any suggestions for content we should consider, feel free to shoot them to us. We want to build this thing up together, so we're certainly wanting your feedback.
Even though I spent most of 2017 reporting about shooting survivors, I'm still stunned that this week, my colleagues and I covered our second mass shooting in less than a year. Last time, it was in our backyard in Cincinnati. This time, it was in Dayton, only an hour away. Nine people died. Twenty-seven were injured.
The part that I really couldn't fathom was that all the destruction happened in a span of 32 seconds.
Sometimes my early days at the University of Iowa -- the first of two colleges I didn't graduate before I finally got my diploma from the third -- seems a million years away. Lately, though, I can close my eyes and be right there again, going to concerts at Gabe's and The Union, shopping for candles and incense at Moon Mystique, grabbing a coffee to read a new book at Prairie Lights.
Iowa City was easily the single most important phase of my career, and that's not because of all I learned working at the college newspaper. In fact, I refused to work there. I was a punk and pissed that I was passed over for a scholarship, so instead of accepting an invitation to write there, I started my own newspaper with my then-boyfriend, a musician. Together, we created The Proper Gander, a 'zine covering independent music throughout the Midwest.
It was beyond ambitious for both of us, and frankly, it took a toll, both emotionally and financially. But, man, it really was pretty awesome. We worked our asses off, first from my dorm room college, and then from a shithole apartment above a sub shop in Iowa City's pedestrian mall. The "bedroom" didn't legally qualify as one. We literally had to push the futon one direction to reach the closet, then the other to step into the bathroom. The undoubtedly lead paint peeled throughout the place. The kitchen appliances might have been new when my mom was college-aged. The carpet was so cheap and frayed that it unraveled and, I kid you not, killed my cat.
Looking back, though, we really did pretty amazing work for kids our age, publishing on our own dimes. (If I ever become a millionaire, I promise I'll pay my old partner back for his share, if he'll let me. ) Sure, we sold ads, but at $25 per quarter page, it hardly paid for newsprint. In fewer than 18 months, we grew to 10,000 circulation throughout the Midwest. We drove to hand deliver some of our copies, hitting Minneapolis and Madison on the regular. Other destinations were reached by snail mail, another hefty cost. The work I did with Proper Gander let me leapfrog the usual path of a young journalist. Instead of beginning as a low-paid report, I began at The Cedar Rapids Gazette -- Iowa's second-largest newspaper -- as associate art and entertainment editor. I was 20 years old.
My intention isn't just to self-congratulate or reminisce, though. I've moved a lot over the years, and in one of the more recent moves, my copies of The Gander disappeared. I'd kept them in a tall metal filing cabinet, which I remember seeing in Harper Woods, but which never arrived in Sioux Falls. I was heartbroken to lose this part of my history. So I started searching. I found one through a Twitter follower, which was incredibly cool. (Who keeps 22-year-old 'zines that they didn't create?!) I've also scoured websites and found that somehow, a few issues of the 'zine landed in various college libraries. Only one was available via an online request. The other two, I'll have to drive to get. I can't tell you how excited I was to find the two issues stored at the University of Iowa's college archives, though. The two issues -- Nos. 10 and 11 -- were after we'd hired a page designer, and I admit I never loved how hard to read these two issues were. I also cringe reading a few of the stories. (I was so starstruck by Johnette Napolitano that I could. not. quit. direct. quoting. her, which unfortunately was at the expense of a nicely constructed narrative.) Still, it means so much to me to see these issues again. Next, I have to travel to Bowling Green and Rock Island to see what issues they have stored.
Without further ado, here's a glimpse into my past and at one of the coolest things I've ever done. For now, I'll just upload the covers of the three issues I have, but as I'm able, I'll add the inside pages. If any young adults are reading, know that what you do in and immediately after high school absolutely can shape the rest of your life. Don't let anyone tell you that foolish risks don't ever pay off. (Also, learn from my mistakes as well as my triumphs and, if you feel yourself overwhelmed and anxious, don't take it out on the people who love you. Sap-ass portion over.)
Almost exactly two years ago, a labor of love -- and fuel for my nightmares -- called Accused: The Unsolved Murder of Elizabeth Andes made its debut. On Sept. 8, 2016, the first two episodes dropped, putting on display a full year's worth of work undertaken by Amanda Rossmann and me.
Today, the transcripts of that endeavor hit stores in book form thanks to Diversion Books. Our hope is that compiling the investigation into a new format will help the story reach people who perhaps aren't into podcasts. Our goal, after all, is the same as it's always been: to help solve the case and highlight what confirmation bias and giant, jerk egos can mean to a murder case.
If you've heard the podcast, it's still worthwhile to read it in book form. That's not a sales pitch as much as it's a fact. I wrote the podcast episodes and was still surprised a few times because I'd never sat down to read them back to back. It's nice, too, to have photos and documents included with the text.
The book's innards are owned by The Enquirer's parent company (USA Today Network/Gannett), so we don't make money off of sales -- but know that by buying the book, you're helping to support other projects like ours. The work we put into this podcast is by no means cheap. It not only costs our salaries, but there are myriad other bills attached: microphones, studio equipment, camera gear, computer gear, batteries, travel expenses, etc. Journalism isn't cheap, and without The Enquirer having covered our costs, we never would have been able to shine light on Beth's largely forgotten story.
I have a few copies I can sell directly, but we'd love it if you bought it at your favorite local bookstore. The best prices will of course be at Amazon and other major retailers. That said, whatever is bought here will be signed by at least me, and probably Amanda as well. Thank you for your support. Let's help Beth's story reach even more people. You can order from me here.
Video produced by Liz Dufour. Images provided by Dufour, Meg Vogel and Cara Owsley. Words and narration by Amber Hunt.
For the better part of a year, I traveled the country reporting on gun violence. Four of the eight episodes of Aftermath involved mass shootings -- one at a Jewish center, one at a high school, another on a street corner and the last at a concert. I, more than most, am well aware they can happen anywhere, at any time.
And yet, when it happened Thursday in Cincinnati, I still wasn't quite prepared. My brain and heart just didn't want it to have happened in our own back yard.
What makes that even sillier is that it has happened here before. Not that long ago, even. In March 2017, we had the Cameo nightclub shooting. With 16 injured and one killed, it was one of the largest mass shootings of the year. Even still, it didn't make huge national headlines. Yes, the tally of injured was high, but with "only" one fatality, it paled in comparison to the Pulse in Orlando, to Virginia Tech, to Sandy Hook, to San Bernardino. (I never met you, but I remember you, O'Bryan Spikes, no matter how "low" the body count that day.)
Fast forward to Sept. 6, 2018, and "only" five people were shot at Fifth Third Bank. Three died. A couple of news alerts went out on the national scale, but the story was barely a blip beyond Ohio.
There's nothing minor about it, though. We in Cincinnati are getting back into the rhythm of our lives, but there's a sense that something's different. You carry on because you have to, but I want the victims' families to know that even here in the newsroom, their loved ones' names are still on our minds and in our hearts.
I was tasked with figuring out who those victims were -- not in terms of names, exactly. As I wrote on Facebook to friends and family as I tried to explain how I can stay focused on such a heartbreaking story:
I found one Luis Calderón whose age matched that provided by the coroner, and whose address trail included Cincinnati and Florida. I called the first number I found and got voicemail with his voice still attached. I called another number. No answer. When I called the third, a young voice answered. When he told me Luis was his father, I started to cry. Here's the story that resulted: https://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2018/09/07/cincinnati-shooting-miami-man-luis-filipe-calderon-shot-dead/1221805002/
I share this here not to make it about me, because it absolutely isn't. But I do want to intimate that even those of us who are simply tasked to chronicle these events are indeed affected by them. When I say in Aftermath that the ripple effects are never-ending, I include reporters, first responders, coworkers, even bosses who work in other cities. It goes on and on. I went home Thursday and read to my child before bed, as I do every night. I snuggled him as he fell asleep, as I do every night. After he drifted off, though, I didn't sneak out like I usually do. I held him tighter, until his little body got subconsciously annoyed and twisted out of my grasp. I smiled and whispered, "Okay, okay," and kissed his forehead.
As I wrote in the piece featured atop this post, we move on because we have to -- not because we forget.
It might seem shocking to podcast aficionados, but the truth is, not everyone loves to listen to stories in audio form. As such, Diversion Books is releasing the transcripts for season 1 of Accused as a book. It'll be a handy way to check out documents and photos that weren't easy to navigate on the web, and I've written a foreword to shed some light on the behind-the-scenes work that went into our year-long project.
Amanda and I are both considered co-authors, but know that we don't make money off of sales. It goes to the parent company that made Accused possible, and its success will help fund future investigations such as ours. Huge thanks for the ongoing support! Even if you feel you know Beth's story front and back, I think you'll find some stuff you missed by reading it at your own pace. (Seriously, my editor did.)
The book hits shelves Sept. 18.
One of the truly unexpected outcomes from creating the Accused podcast has been the influx of invitations I've received to speak about my work. As a journalist, standing in front of a crowd talking about myself is never going to be a totally comfortable experience, but the crowd was awesome Saturday at the Crime & Corruption program hosted by the Ohio History Connection.
There, I got to walk people through Beth Andes' case and highlight the importance of an openminded prosecutor. I also met the friendly guys who host the Columbus-based podcast True Crime Garage. They focused on one of Ohio's most enduring murder mysteries: the Sam Sheppard case. (Learn some basics here: http://www.famous-trials.com/sam-sheppard.) Overall, the whole thing was very cool, and if you're ever in Columbus, I highly recommend checking out the Ohio Village. What a cool way to walk back in time. Organizers of the program tell me they hope to make it an annual event, so keep an eye out at OhioHistory.org to learn if it's green lit for next year.
I'm an author, journalist, photographer and college instructor.