I don’t know what’s more incredible—that a Kansas City, Kan., man spent 16 years in prison for a botched purse snatching or that someone was sentenced to 19 years for attempting to snatch a pocketbook.
On Wednesday, Johnson County, Kan., District Judge Kevin Moriarty ordered Richard A. Jones to be released after students and faculty at the University of Kansas Law School, in conjunction with the Midwest Innocence Project, presented evidence showing he was wrongly identified in a photo lineup, according to KCUR.
Jones had spent nearly 16 years in prison for a crime of which he was innocent. Hours after walking free Thursday, Jones said he was still pinching himself.
“The whole time my lawyer was telling me [the judge] is about to reverse my sentence and release me, I didn’t believe it,” Jones said. “When he finally said it, I shed some tears. It was a beautiful thing.”
In 1999, Jones was picked out of a lineup three months after an attempted purse snatching at a Walmart parking lot in Roeland Park, an overwhelmingly white Kansas community. The thief managed to grab only the victim’s cellphone.
Jones, a light-skinned black man, unfortunately bore an uncanny resemblance to the perpetrator, who Jones’ lawyers showed was almost certainly the one who committed the crime.
Photo lineups are notoriously unreliable, and the victim of the attempted robbery, Tamara Scherer, signed a sworn affidavit after Jones’ trial stating that if she were presented with photographs of Jones and the other man (above), she probably would not be able to tell the difference.
At Jones’ trial, however, Scherer testified that Jones was the offender. And although he had an alibi, he was found guilty of aggravated robbery and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison. WKCR reports that the Kansas Court of Appeals later denied his appeal as well as his claim that he was denied effective assistance of counsel.
“If you believe it just happens to certain people—people with criminal histories and things of that nature—it doesn’t,” Jones said. “It can happen to anybody. And it took me to go to prison to see that.”
He continues: “When I got locked up, my kids were kids and now they’re grown. That gives you an idea of what type of time people are doing and the type of time a person can do for a crime they didn’t commit.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Jones as he adjusts to freedom.
Read more at KCUR.