Criminal Justice

He Was Exonerated of Killing His Infant, but the State Still Says He's Guilty

"Even after his 2021 exoneration, Baltimore County prosecutors have opposed Clarence receiving compensation for the injustice of being wrongfully convicted," says an attorney representing the man.


A Maryland man was exonerated in 2021 after serving nearly two decades in prison for the murder of his infant son. Now, he's attempting to get compensation for the 18 years he wrongfully spent imprisoned. However, the state is trying to stop him, arguing that he's still guilty—despite growing doubt in the medical diagnosis used to convict him.

According to The Daily Record, a Baltimore-based newspaper, Clarence Jones was imprisoned for second-degree murder following the death of his 9-week-old son Collin in 1998. According to Jones, he and Collin had been napping when he awoke to hear the infant aspirating formula, leading Jones to rush him to the hospital, where the baby became unresponsive and later died.

At the hospital, doctors found blood on the surface of Collin's brain and in his eyes and began suspecting that Collin's symptoms had been caused by "shaken baby syndrome," a medical condition that many doctors at the time believed was caused by a caregiver violently shaking a baby. The condition allegedly resulted in a "constellation of symptoms"—bleeding on the brain's surface, blood in the eyes, and brain swelling or a loss of consciousness—which matched Collin's condition. Doctors contacted the police, suspecting Collin died from abuse by Jones. Just minutes after Collin's death, police arrested Jones at the hospital.

"I was paralyzed," Jones told The Daily Record about his arrest. "My legs almost went out from beneath me and my brain just froze."

Despite Jones protesting that he was innocent, he was convicted of his son's murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison, after a trial where the prosecution relied heavily on expert witnesses who claimed that nothing other than violent shaking could have caused Collin's death. According to The Daily Record, one expert witness did testify in Jones' defense, noting that Collin's litany of other health issues—like lingering pneumonia symptoms and head trauma from birth—made it too difficult to determine the cause of this death.

"I'm troubled with the flat-out statement it had to be shaken baby syndrome and nothing else," pathologist Rudiger Breitinger said on Jones' behalf during the trial. "I don't think we have enough proof of that."

When Jones was released on parole in 2017, the medical consensus around shaken baby syndrome had changed dramatically. What was once a near-universally accepted diagnosis was now deeply controversial, with much of the research justifying the label having since come into question.

"Where the near-unanimous opinion once held that the SBS triad of symptoms could only result from a shaking with the force equivalent of a fall from a three-story to four-story window, or a car moving at 25 mph to 40 mph (depending on the source), research completed in 2003 using lifelike infant dolls suggested that vigorous human shaking produces bleeding similar to that of only a 2-foot to 3-foot fall," wrote Radley Balko in a 2009 summary of new findings in Reason. "Furthermore, the shaking experiments failed to produce symptoms with the severity of those typically seen in SBS deaths."

So far, at least 26 people convicted of shaken baby syndrome–related crimes have been exonerated. In 2021, Jones became one more among them, after a panel of judges on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals granted him a writ of actual innocence. Jones had already been released from prison in 2017, but the exoneration was still a tremendous victory—he was no longer subject to parole, and he was no longer a convicted murderer.

"Since 1999, scientific and medical literature has identified other natural causes of retinal hemorrhages and other eye findings as seen in Collin," the court wrote. "Because Collin's medical conditions were quickly dismissed as potential causes of the constellation of symptoms that Collin presented, such evidence would be especially important when there is a history of illness, hospitalization, and an absence of external injuries."

Under Maryland law, exonerees are eligible for compensation under state law. According to The Daily Record, Jones is eligible for around $1.6 million, though he faces an uphill legal battle to obtain compensation. Despite his writ of actual innocence, the state of Maryland contends that Jones cannot provide the "clear and convincing evidence" required for compensation and that"he did in fact murder his child."

"Even after his 2021 exoneration, Baltimore County prosecutors have opposed Clarence receiving compensation for the injustice of being wrongfully convicted," Lauren J. Kelleher, an attorney representing Jones, told The Daily Record. "Instead of trying to mitigate the difficulties he endures and will continue to endure for the rest of his life, they have decided to wrongly re-prosecute him for the tragic death of his own son."

As Jones tries to obtain compensation for his time spent unjustly behind bars, the diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome continues to come under scrutiny. In 2022, one New Jersey judge declared the label "junk science" and barred testimony from shaken baby syndrome–experts in one case involving an allegation that an infant became severely injured due to shaking.