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KU Law School helps exonerate man wrongly convicted for doppelgänger's crime

Source: 
University Daily Kansan
Author: 
Sydney Hoover
Date: 
Monday, September 17, 2018

Richard Jones says the only word he can find to describe the feeling he had when he was released from prison is “surreal.”

With the assistance of the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas School of Law, Jones was exonerated in June 2017 after serving almost 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Now, Jones filed his own petition for Certification of Innocence in the state of Kansas on Aug. 29. In addition to monetary compensation of over $1 million for the 17 years he spent in prison, the petition would also give him tuition assistance to attend a postsecondary school for himself and his daughters, counseling, housing and health care assistance and more.

“I don’t know if I would ever feel like that again in my life,” Jones said. “The fact that my kids who were babies when I went in and I wasn’t around for all that time, they could see me come out the way I did, with my name cleared. That was just a wonderful feeling.”

Jones was arrested in 1999 after a two witnesses identified him from a random selection of photos as the culprit in a burglary in Johnson County.

The burglary, committed at a Walmart in Roeland Park, occurred on Memorial Day in 1999. The burglar, who witnesses were able to identify by the name ‘Ricky,’ had been picked up by two other men from a house for a drug deal. Ricky proceeded to rob a purse from a woman in the Walmart parking lot, then the men dropped him back off at the house, according to Alice Craig, supervising attorney at the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence through the School of Law.

Jones and his family testified that he had spent the day at home in Kansas City, Missouri, celebrating his girlfriend’s birthday.

But it wasn’t enough. He was convicted of robbery on April 24, 2001 and sentenced to 19 years in prison, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

“[The police investigating] said they had the description from the victim and the people in the car and they had the name Rick or Ricky,” Craig said. “They looked for a black male or hispanic with the name Rick, Ricky or Richard, and they had one of the witnesses come in and flip through six photos at a time and at the 202nd photo the witness picked out Richard.”

Jones sent an application in to the Midwest Innocence Project, who forwarded his case onto the Project for Innocence at the University. His case was picked up in 2015 – 14 years after his conviction.

Craig said for the first year of the project, attorneys could not find sufficient evidence to begin litigating the case.

“There really was nothing that put him at that location or at the crime. He had a solid alibi, the problem was it was his family and the state just argued, ‘well it’s your family, they would lie for you,’” Craig said.

Then there was a breakthrough, discovered by Jones himself. He said that he was talking with one of the other inmates in the prison when he heard about a man named Ricky Amos.

“This was a needle in a haystack, when we got that,” Craig said.

After investigating Amos more, Craig said they were able to “tie” him to the house he was picked up and dropped off at. He had been living there with his mother at the time, according to a neighbor. In the original trial, Jones had never been linked to the house.

“So the original investigation, the detective put his card on the door and it said ‘call me.’ Nobody called,” Craig said. “I mean, it’s a house where you’re buying drugs. Nobody’s going to call the detective. They didn’t follow up, they didn’t sit on the house, nothing.”

Amos “testified and denied involvement” in the crime, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Jones was exonerated five days after the testimonial, on June 12, 2016. He had been in prison for almost 17 years of the 19-year conviction.

“I did not think I was going to get exonerated. We had everything that we needed, but still, I just couldn’t get my hopes up until I heard it out of the judge’s mouth,” Jones said. “Alice Craig just kept telling me, he’s going to release you, he’s going to release you, and I still wasn’t accepting it for what it was.”

Now, Jones is working to improve the lives of exonerates like himself.

Through the Project for Innocence, he was connected with two other exonerees – Lamonte McIntyre, who spent 23 years in prison for murder, and Floyd Bledsoe, who spent almost 16 years for murder, child sex abuse and kidnapping. 

The three of them testified in front of lawmakers at the Kansas State Capitol last spring, and on May 3, Kansas became the 33rd state to honor a “compensation bill,” which provides exonerates such as Jones, McIntyre and Bledsoe with financial compensation of $65,000 per year of wrongful conviction.

“You can never get the time back, but when you’re in a position financially to not worry about stress over money, that takes a lot of stress off of life, period. I’m just proud to be a part of that,” Jones said. “No matter what I went through, I’m just proud to be a part of that and to come out with something positive from this.”

Above all else, Jones said he is thankful for the help that Craig and the faculty and students at the Project for Innocence provided him.

“We became friends,” Jones said. “They believed in my innocence and they went a long way with me.”

Faculty name: 
Alice Craig