By Steve Bittenbender
LOUISVILLE (Reuters) – Louisville police said on Thursday they were reviewing a request to reopen the 51-year-old unsolved murder of the city’s first female prosecutor, a civil rights pioneer who once represented boxer Muhammad Ali.
The body of Alberta Jones, who was beaten unconscious, was pulled from the Ohio River on Aug. 5, 1965. No charges were filed in the case, but Lee Remington Williams, a professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville, sent a seven-page letter this week to the city’s police chief asking him to reopen the investigation of the 34-year-old’s death.
Alicia Smiley, a police spokeswoman, said Chief Steve Conrad would review the request and give it “full consideration.”
Jones was the first African-American woman to pass the Kentucky bar exam, and represented Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, in securing the eventual boxing champ’s first professional contract.
The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that she helped integrate the University of Louisville.
Eight years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation matched a fingerprint found inside Jones’s car to a man who was 17 at the time of the murder. Then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel concluded two years later that he could not prosecute the case, citing loss of evidence and the death of key witnesses, the newspaper reported.
Williams, a lawyer who teaches pre-law at Bellarmine, initially wanted to write a book about the case, but now is focused on helping to get the case reopened, noting that the lead detective and the then-teenager are still alive.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell said on Thursday that his office has a personal interest in the case, citing the presence of a plaque commemorating the young attorney’s service to the community. Jones’s niece also has been a long-time staff member, he said.
“She was so far ahead of her time,” said O’Connell, who added that it was up to the police to decide whether or not to reopen the investigation.
Jones was not a county attorney at the time, but the position she held was absorbed into the county attorney’s office several years ago, according to the county attorney’s office.
(Reporting by Steve Bittenbender, Editing by Ben Klayman)