WILBERT JONES EXONERATED, 46 YEARS AND NINE MONTHS AFTER WRONGFUL ARREST
New Orleans –Thursday, October 11th 2018, the State of Louisiana dismissed the rape charge against Wilbert Jones, 46 years and nine months after he was wrongly arrested for it. Mr. Jones, who is represented by lawyers from Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) including Kia Hayes, Executive Director Jee Park, and Senior Counsel Emily Maw, was wrongly convicted in 1973 for the October 1971 kidnapping and rape of a female nurse at Baton Rouge General Hospital. The nurse repeatedly told investigators that she was not 100% sure in her identification of Mr. Jones (who was arrested four months after the crime) but nevertheless her identification—alone—was enough to convict him at a brief trial. Poor, illiterate and without anyone to help, he spent the next forty years fighting to clear his name and be reunited with his family. IPNO took up his case in 2001 and found clear evidence that the crime for which Mr. Jones was convicted was a signature crime of a serial rapist who exactly matched the nurse’s initial description of her assailant. Authorities at the time made the connection between the serial rapist and the rape of the nurse at Baton Rouge General Hospital, but never disclosed this information. The serial rapist is alive, free and living in Baton Rouge today.
IPNO petitioned the courts for Mr. Jones’ conviction to be overturned and asked the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office to prosecute the rapist responsible. After years of litigation and hearing the evidence of his innocence Judge Richard Anderson (of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge) threw out Mr. Jones’ conviction in October of 2017 and ordered a nominal bail that secured his immediate release two weeks later while the State appealed Judge Anderson’s decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Since that time, Mr. Jones has been living with his family in Baton Rouge. On Monday, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed Judge Anderson’s decision vacating Mr. Jones’ wrongful conviction. The East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s office declined to re-try him and today they officially dismissed the charges against Mr. Jones.
Emily Maw said: “Mr. Jones was exonerated today after 46 years and nine months wrongly charged with a rape he did not commit. His conviction was not reversed on a technical legal issue. Judge Anderson threw out his conviction and insured his freedom because law enforcement did not disclose the known serial rapist with an identical MO who matched the description and committed—what Judge Anderson described as –a ‘mirror image crime’ just weeks later. With today’s dismissal of the indictment, he is unequivocally and finally exonerated.”
The National Registry of Exonerations defines an exoneration as a case in which a conviction is thrown out due to new evidence of innocence that was unknown at trial and in which the defendant is subsequently not re-prosecuted or is re-tried and acquitted. (See: https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/about.aspx)
Kia Hayes explained that: “Wilbert’s entire ordeal stemmed from a mistaken witness whose mistake could have been prevented with better police procedures. In May, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 466, sponsored by Sen. Wesley Bishop and with the full support of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association and Louisiana District Attorney’s Association. The act requires law enforcement to implement the best-known methods for eyewitness identifications to prevent tragedies such as that which took most of Mr. Jones’ life. Preventable injustices like this should no longer occur on our watch. But his story should serve as a reminder of the importance of constantly reviewing and improving police procedures.”
Jee Park said: “Wilbert Jones spent more time wrongly imprisoned than any known exonerated American. Mr. Jones was arrested as a young, poor, illiterate black man at a time of great racial tension in Baton Rouge. He had a cursory trial and flimsy evidence was sufficient to throw him away for the rest of his life. His case represents not just what was wrong then, but the enormous power of courts now to rectify those wrongs and demonstrate that the strength of our institutions is only in recognizing that they are a work in progress.”
Kia Hayes added: “When we spoke to Mr. Jones this morning to tell him the news, he was overwhelmed. He thanked God and then said he wanted to vote.”