"A University of Kansas Law Professor believes that though the Legislature showed its work, its amicus brief in the school funding case may not
make much difference in what the court ultimately decides.
"A University of Kansas Law Professor believes that though the Legislature showed its work, its amicus brief in the school funding case may not
"The University of Kansas School of Law is to be commended for its continued work on behalf of individuals who have been wrongfully convicted.
Jones’ case is just the latest victory that the KU Project for Innocence can claim. Since 2008, the project has won more than 40 direct appeals, constitutional challenges and actual innocence cases. Among those successes was helping secure the release in 2015 of Floyd Bledsoe, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder that evidence showed his brother committed.
"Law students and attorneys with the University of Kansas School of Law’s Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence & Post-Conviction Remedies and the Midwest Innocence Project spent nearly two years working to free Richard Jones, who was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for aggravated robbery after several eyewitnesses, including the victim, identified him as the purse snatcher.
"Gov. Eric Greitens describes his recent run-in with the Missouri Ethics Commission as a minor campaign finance matter.
Greitens, a first-term Republican, agreed to pay a $1,000 fine in late April for failing to disclose that his campaign had obtained a list of donors to The Mission Continues, a charity he founded in 2007.
"Richard Jones spent 17 years in prison for a crime he has always insisted he didn't commit. Then attorneys discovered he had a doppelganger: a man who looked nearly identical to him and had a similar name.
On Thursday, Jones was released from prison after witnesses said they could barely tell the difference between the two men and no longer thought Jones was guilty.
LAWRENCE — The outlook for Richard Jones appeared bleak when University of Kansas School of Law Project for Innocence interns Chapman Williams and Chad Neswick took over his case in 2015.
Despite maintaining his innocence from the start, Jones had already spent 15 years in prison for aggravated robbery – convicted after the victim and witnesses of a purse snatching identified him in a police lineup. Without new evidence to counter the eyewitness testimony, relief seemed unlikely.
Then something happened that made everyone see the case differently.
Inmates at the Lansing Correctional Facility — where Jones was serving his 19-year sentence — started mistaking him for another guy on the inside named Ricky Amos. Jones reported the look-alike confusion to the Project for Innocence, and Williams and Neswick tracked down mug shots of Amos.
“They looked like they could have been twins,” Williams said. “From there, other pieces of the puzzle began fitting together.”
Nearly two years later, Jones is enjoying a new view. He walked free this month after a Johnson County judge reversed his conviction and ordered his release. Jones held his 2-year-old granddaughter for the first time and enjoyed a barbecue with family and friends.
“Working on Richard’s case has taught me to look at every case with care,” said KU Law student Brenna Lynch, who helped draft the petition that won Jones another chance to challenge his conviction. “It’s bittersweet. We were able to help Richard, and now he gets to be with his family and live as a free man again. But it’s hard knowing that almost 20 years of his life were taken from him for a crime he didn’t commit.”
‘No other option’
On May 30, 1999, Jones celebrated his girlfriend’s birthday by hosting a Memorial Day weekend barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri. The next day, he was home all day cleaning up.
A few miles across the state line in Kansas City, Kansas, three people who had been driving around smoking crack went to a neighborhood where they could buy more. They picked up a man named Rick at a known drug house. He told them to drive to a nearby Walmart, where he attempted to steal a woman’s purse in the parking lot. She fought back, sustaining minor injuries, and the assailant got away with only her cell phone.
Neither the victim nor the Walmart security guard got a good look at the attacker. According to court records, they could only describe him as a thin, light-skinned black or Hispanic man with dark hair.
Through a series of identification procedures, police and witnesses came to believe Richard Jones was the assailant. He was arrested nine months after the attack and convicted of aggravated robbery in 2000.
No physical evidence tied Jones to the getaway vehicle, the victim or the robbery. Despite presenting a verified alibi, he was convicted based solely on eyewitness identification.
“Richard Jones’s case highlights the flaws in eyewitness identification and the importance of proper procedures,” said Alice Craig, supervising attorney with KU’s Project for Innocence. “Witnesses were presented with no other option but to choose Jones in the lineups as created. None of the other photos matched the description provided by the witnesses.”
Those flawed identification procedures became strikingly clear after Jones drew the attention of Project for Innocence advocates to the existence of his doppelganger, Ricky Amos.
As students Williams and Neswick dug deeper, they discovered that Amos had committed other crimes consistent with the one for which Jones was serving time. They also determined that Amos had lived in the Kansas City area and was associated with the address of the duplex where Jones had allegedly been picked up before the robbery.
“With all of these facts, we were able to build a case, including meeting with the victim of the crime and witnesses who were at Walmart that day,” Williams said.
None of them could tell Amos and Jones apart. “I am no longer certain I identified the right person at the preliminary hearing and trial,” Tamara Scherer, the robbery victim, said in an affidavit last year. “If I had seen both men at the time, I would not have felt comfortable choosing between the two men and possibly sending a man to prison.”
Indeed, Jones was the only light-skinned man in the police lineups shown to Scherer and witnesses.
Project for Innocence students Brenna Lynch and Nikki Multer took over the case in 2016. They drafted the motion to vacate Jones’s sentence, compiled exhibits, made trips to get statements from the original witnesses, researched problems with eyewitness testimony, searched for experts to testify, met with the Johnson County District Attorney’s office and eventually helped file the case.
Although Jones had previously exhausted his appeals, the 10th Judicial District Court in Johnson County agreed to hear the new evidence to prevent a “manifest injustice.”
Improving the system
Former Johnson County Assistant District Attorney John Cowles, who prosecuted the original trial, testified at the June 7 hearing that it was rare for him to try cases based solely on eyewitness identification because of its known “pitfalls.” He said new evidence presented by the Project for Innocence, in partnership with the Midwest Innocence Project, undermined his confidence that Jones’s trial produced a just result.
In a ruling from the bench, Judge Kevin P. Moriarty wrote that no reasonable jury would convict Jones if he were tried again, especially in light of evidence linking Amos to the crime.
“When Judge Moriarty finally said what we all had been waiting hours to hear, it was almost surreal,” said Lynch, who attended the hearing and was at the Johnson County Jail when Jones was released the next day. “The effect of that ruling didn’t even really hit me until I saw Richard get to hug his daughter, something he probably hasn’t done for 17 years. Members of his family, people I had never met before, were thanking me and hugging me. That’s a really good feeling, knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life like that.”
Multer and Lynch both said working on Jones’s case taught them the importance of vigilant advocacy.
“Our criminal justice system is flawed, so we as lawyers have a duty to make it better,” Lynch said. “I had the privilege of working on a case that had a happy ending, but, unfortunately, that’s rare. There are hundreds of other cases — and maybe hundreds of other people like Richard — who never get this chance.”
Recent independent studies conservatively estimate that between 2 and 5 percent of inmates in the United States are innocent. More than 70 percent of those wrongful convictions are the result of mistaken eyewitness identification, especially across racial lines, according to Cardozo Law’s Innocence Project.
“Cases like Mr. Jones’s give our students the opportunity to examine the causes of wrongful convictions, as well as the valuable experience of working with a client,” said Beth Cateforis, supervising attorney with KU’s Project for Innocence. “When we achieve an outcome like Mr. Jones’s, the students get to see the result of their perseverance and know that their efforts changed their client’s life.”
Williams, who graduated in May, characterized Jones’s exoneration as the most important accomplishment of his budding legal career.
“More importantly, I’m extremely happy that Richard is free,” he said. “His resilience and determination made it all possible. I hope he is compensated for those 17 years of lost time.”
PHOTOS (from top): Exoneree Richard Jones hugs Alice Craig, supervising attorney with the University of Kansas Project for Innocence, after being released from prison; Jones embraces KU Law student Nikki Multer, who helped work on his case as an intern with the Project for Innocence; Jones holds his 2-year-old granddaughter for the first time while giving a TV interview after his release.
LAWRENCE — Since 2010, numerous states have passed legislation providing for the establishment of public benefit corporations — for-profit businesses that choose to also make promoting the public good part of their corporate purpose. Kansas recently enacted such legislation, with aspects that make it one of the most innovative and unique in the nation, supported by a drafting team led by University of Kansas School of Law faculty and alumni.
Corporations that make furthering public good part of their mission are becoming increasingly more common. Whether they are outdoors recreation outfitting companies like Patagonia that support environmental sustainability, or a clothing company such as TOMS that provides shoes to children in need for every pair sold, public benefit corporations are increasingly dotting the corporate landscape.
As of 2017, 37 states have approved legislation allowing such organizations to incorporate within their borders. What makes Kansas’ legislation innovative, KU Law professors say, is its combination of Kansas’ traditional reliance on Delaware law as a model and transparency requirements that originated in legislation proposed by B Lab, a nonprofit entity that fosters the use of business as a force for good.
“The idea is to create a corporate focus where the owners of the company are obligated to pursue one or more benefits for the public good. Traditionally, companies could do that as a byproduct of their work, but this is part of the fiduciary duties of a public benefit corporation,” said Virginia Harper Ho, professor of law at KU. “What’s special about this is the dual mission. You have the for-profit mission and the public good. Had we not done this, businesses that wanted to use the public benefit corporation model would have had to incorporate somewhere else."
Harper Ho and Webb Hecker, Centennial Teaching Professor at KU, were part of a committee working on behalf of the Kansas Bar Association to research, draft, and recommend to the Kansas Legislature a comprehensive update of Kansas General Corporation Code. They were joined by KU Law alumnus William Matthews, who chaired the committee, and attorneys Robert Alderson, Garrett Roe, William Quick and William Wood.
Delaware law made sense as a starting point because its business entity legislation is traditionally looked to as the gold standard, and the state is widely viewed as business friendly. The Delaware General Corporation Law, updated annually, is touted as the most advanced and flexible business formation statute in the nation. In addition, the Delaware Court of Chancery is a one-of-a-kind business court that, over the years, has developed a high degree of specialized knowledge and created a wealth of modern U.S. corporation case law.
Kansas has a history of modeling business legislation after Delaware dating back at least to the 1940s, and, in more recent times, Kansas courts have recognized Delaware Supreme Court and Court of Chancery opinions as persuasive precedent.
“Delaware is attractive because they have courts that are highly respected, have written good case law and left few unanswered questions,” Hecker said. “So what you can do is pattern your legislation after Delaware’s and take advantage of their statutes and judicial opinions.”
Hecker also said the impetus for special public benefit corporation legislation is the belief that corporate law requires the directors of for-profit corporations to pursue single-mindedly the goal of profit-maximization for the benefit of the corporation’s shareholders. Therefore, the fear is that if a corporation wants to do well and do good, it will open itself up to suit by one or more disgruntled shareholders, hence the need for statutory relief.
The Kansas special committee, however, did not simply want to recreate Delaware’s public benefit corporation legislation. Rather, the committee combined the best of the Delaware and B Lab models with some unique features of its own. The result is a statute that:
- requires the directors to manage the corporation in a way that balances the monetary interests of the shareholders, the public benefit(s) the corporation has elected to pursue and the best interests of those affected by the corporation’s conduct
- requires the corporation to prepare an annual benefit statement on the basis of a transparent standard created by an independent third party entity
- requires the benefit statement to be distributed to the shareholders and be made publicly available
- requires a two-thirds supermajority shareholder vote to elect or terminate public benefit corporation status (while providing appraisal rights to dissenters)
- requires that a person be a shareholder in order to enforce the corporation’s duty to pursue a public benefit
House Bill 2153 passed in the 2017 Kansas legislative session was signed by the governor and takes effect July 1. Hecker and Harper Ho said the unique nature of the legislation gives the state an edge in supporting business innovation and will also serve as a model for other states in supporting public benefit corporations while the enhanced reporting and transparency mechanisms will prevent “greenwashing,” the practice of claiming to support public good causes for a competitive advantage without following through.
“We thought we could get the best of both worlds by strengthening the reporting mechanism,” Harper Ho said. “This is another path. Kansas is now the only state to merge the Delaware approach and greater transparency requirements.”
"Investigators discovered that the crime Jones was convicted of was very likely committed by another man — his doppelganger with a somewhat-similar first name.
The resemblance was uncanny. Their braided hairstyles, goatees, dark eyes, thick eye brows and complexion all look strikingly similar.
'We were just like, holy crap,' said Alice Craig, Jones’s attorney.
"In prison for a crime he adamantly denied committing, Richard Anthony Jones repeatedly heard from others that there was another prisoner who looked just like him.
Not only were they doppelgangers, but Jones was told that he and the other man shared the same first name.
Jones never ran across the man, but the lawyers he passed the information on to began digging into his case and came to the conclusion that Jones was indeed an innocent man.
"A Missouri man who spent nearly 17 years in prison for a 1999 robbery was freed after supporters found another man who looked enough like him that the victim and other witnesses said they could no longer be sure who committed the crime.
Richard Anthony Jones, of Kansas City, Mo., always maintained he didn’t commit the robbery and two years ago asked two organizations that advocate for inmates for help proving his innocence.