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Man who wrongfully spent 17 years in prison in ‘doppelgänger case’ seeks $1.1 million

The New York Times
Christine Hauser
Thursday, August 30, 2018

Nearly two decades ago, Richard A. Jones was convicted of aggravated robbery after being picked out of a lineup by witnesses who said he stole a cellphone in a Walmart parking lot in Kansas.

But while Mr. Jones, who maintains he is innocent, was serving his 19-year sentence at Lansing Correctional Facility, inmates told him he looked like a prisoner named Ricky.

That resemblance would eventually lead to his freedom.

Last year, a judge threw out Mr. Jones’s conviction after the original witnesses were shown side-by-side photographs of the two men and said they could not tell them apart. Now Mr. Jones, 42, is trying to get his life back on track.

On Wednesday, he filed a petition in the 10th Judicial District Court of Kansas, seeking more than $1.1 million in compensation from the state — or about $65,000 for each year of the 17 years he spent in prison for a robbery he said he did not commit, starting when he was 25 years old and a father of two young daughters.

He is also seeking help with tuition, housing and counseling.

“It took a big chunk of my life that I can never get back,” Mr. Jones said in an interview on Thursday. “I am just trying to get stable in my everyday life. I am still transitioning.”

His daughters are now 24 and 19, he said, and he is a grandfather.

“At that time I was pretty much trying to be responsible as a father,” he said. “I was not perfect, but I was a big part of their lives, and when I got incarcerated it was hard for me because I was used to being around for my kids.”

“It was a hard pill to swallow,” Mr. Jones said.

Richard Ainsworth, Mr. Jones’s lawyer, said Thursday that they were hoping for a certificate of innocence and for compensation so he could “finally move forward with his life after spending over 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.”

“This compensation is relatively small given the unfathomable hardship of 17 years of wrongful imprisonment,” the petition says.

The petition, reported by The Kansas City Star on Wednesday, is the latest twist in what has been described as the “doppelgänger case,” which is set out in court documents that trace the nearly two decades of Mr. Jones’s ordeal of arrest, conviction, imprisonment and, finally, freedom.

Mr. Jones was arrested in April 2000, the petition said. In a lineup, his photograph was the only one among the six images to be that of a light-skinned man.

“Witnesses were presented with no other option but to choose Jones in the lineups as created,” said Alice Craig, one of the lawyers and researchers at the University of Kansas School of Law’s Project for Innocence who helped win his release.

“None of the other photos matched the description provided by the witnesses,” she said in a statement after he was released from prison in June 2017.

During a jury trial, the witnesses, seeing Mr. Jones in person, said they were not sure whether he was the attacker, the petition said. But Mr. Jones was convicted and sent to prison in 2000.

In prison, he was told about Ricky Amos when inmates started confusing the two. “I took it with a grain of salt,” Mr. Jones said Thursday.

But an idea started brewing that he thought could help him, once again, assert his innocence. “I knew it was, at that time, it was my only shot,” he said. “I could not lose. I had to throw it out there.”

Mr. Jones sought the help of the Project for Innocence, and Mr. Amos’s photograph was tracked down, the project said.

“They looked like they could have been twins,” Chapman Williams, a former intern who had worked on the case at the Project for Innocence, said in 2017. “From there, other pieces of the puzzle began fitting together.”

Mr. Amos’s address was identified as the place where the getaway car had stopped to pick up “Rick,” the petition said. A spokesman for the Johnson County district attorney did not immediately return a call about Mr. Amos and the status of the robbery case.

Mr. Jones filed a motion for postconviction relief, the petition said, and Judge Kevin Moriarty held a hearing last year. Two of the witnesses recanted their identifications.

Judge Moriarty concluded that the court “has no doubt that a jury would not be able to reach a determination that this defendant was guilty, and this court does not believe any reasonable jury could have made such a decision in this case.”

On June 7, 2017, Mr. Jones walked free.

“I just want my name to be clear,” he said.

Faculty name: 
Alice Craig