Serial baby killer set to go free

ANGLETON, Texas (KHOU) -- To this day, the mothers and fathers cherish photographs of the newborn babies who never came home from the hospital.

"And I only have one picture of her," said Linda Ybarbo, who lost a newborn daughter. "They gave me that picture the day she passed away. As a young mother, it was your baby. She was an angel."

"It was a really rough time," said George Planos, who also lost a newborn daughter. "I'm like, 'But you just told us today she was getting better. What's going on? Why did she die?' And they said, 'We don't know.'"

As it turned out, the mystery seemed like something out of a horror novel. A nurse entrusted with the care of newborn infants was injecting them with powerful muscle relaxants, killing them in their cribs.

"Very strange," Nick Rothe, the prosecutor in the case, recalls."You would think maybe you'd get a tear or a smile about something. But I never saw it. And I saw a lot of her every day."

Stranger still is what might happen next in the bizarre case of Genene Jones.

Her case is scheduled for a routine parole hearing in Angleton on Wednesday. Crime victim advocates believe her request for parole will be rejected and officials will order her to remain in prison.

But maybe not much longer.

As improbable as it seems, a homicidal nurse believed responsible for killing dozens of babies is scheduled for release from the Texas prison system where she was sentenced to serve 99 years. Now prosecutors, victimized families and anti-crime activists are working on a strategy to keep one of the most notorious serial killers in Texas history behind bars.

"This is an individual who should never be out of prison," said Susan Reed, the district attorney of Bexar County, who has launched a cold case effort to find evidence that might convict Jones of another crime.

Three decades have passed since Jones was sentenced to 99 years for murdering a 15 month-old girl. She was later convicted in another attempted homicide and sentenced to a concurrent 60 year term. Prosecutors believe she may have been responsible for the deaths of more than 40 infants at hospitals where she worked in Kerrville and San Antonio.

The horrifying case has been the subject of lurid true crime books and at least two movies. Stephen King fans find similarities between Jones and Annie Wilkes, the fictional killer nurse actress Kathy Bates won an Oscar for portraying in the film version of "Misery."

But under mandatory release laws designed to relieve prison overcrowding in the 1980's, even the most violent and dangerous criminals were credited with three days in prison for every day of good behavior behind bars. The law has long since been revised, but it still applies to criminals convicted during that era. As a result, Jones is scheduled for release in 2017.

"She's probably going to be the first serial killer in this country's history to be legally released," said Andy Kahan, the City of Houston's crime victim advocate.

So prosecutors are adopting a strategy similar to the effort that kept in prison Coral Watts, another convicted serial killer, despite his conviction under the old Texas law. Watts confessed to killing 13 women, most of them in the Houston area, during the early 1980s. He was sentenced to 60 years, but under the mandatory release rules he was scheduled to go free in 2006.

Authorities in Michigan, where Watts admitted murdering a number of other women in exchange for a plea bargain, launched an effort to review old cases and convict him in another murder. As a result of publicity surrounding his impending release, an eyewitness to a 1974 murder recognized Watts and offered testimony that kept the serial killer behind bars until his death in 2007.

"So we're doing the same campaign we did with serial killer Coral Eugene Watts," Kahan said. "We're putting Jones back on the map four years basically before she's scheduled to be released and hoping there's one case out there."

There's no statute of limitations on murder, but winning a conviction on such a cold case is a long shot. Still, it may be prosecutors' only shot at keeping one of the most notorious serial killers in Texas history off the streets.


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