Updated Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, 5:35 p.m. EST: Many of you have asked how you can help Wilbert Jones. This fundraising page, which the Innocence Project New Orleans sent us, has been set up to help Jones “rebuild his life after 45 years of wrongful incarceration.”
Wilbert Jones was 19 years old when police arrested him in 1971 on suspicion of kidnapping and raping a nurse in Baton Rouge, La. Now, 43 years after he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, a judge has overturned his conviction. Jones will be released and walk out of prison a free man—after he pays $2,000 bail.
State District Judge Richard Anderson ruled that the decades-old case against Jones was “weak, at best” and determined that authorities at the time withheld evidence that could have exonerated Jones decades ago. NBC News reports that Jones showed no visible reaction in the courtroom when the judge announced his freedom and the $2,000 bail.
Prosecutors said that they intend to ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review Anderson’s decision, but they will not retry Jones for the crime.
Jones, now 65, was arrested 46 years ago in the abduction of a nurse at gunpoint from the parking lot of a Baton Rouge hospital and her rape behind a building the night of Oct. 2, 1971. At a retrial three years later in 1974, he was convicted of aggravated rape and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In his ruling, Anderson said that the state’s case against Jones “rested entirely” on the nurse’s testimony and her “questionable identification” of Jones as her assailant. She picked Jones out in a police lineup more than three months after the rape, but also told them that the man who raped her was much taller and had a “much rougher voice” than Jones’.
The nurse died in 2008.
According to Jones’ attorneys, the nurse’s description fit a man who was arrested but never charged in a similar case 27 days after the nurse’s attack. In 1973, that same man was arrested in the rape of a third woman but only charged and convicted of armed robbery in that case.
Anderson said in his ruling that this evidence shows police knew of the similarities between that man and the nurse’s description of her attacker, but “[n]evertheless, the state failed to provide this information to the defense.”
Prosecutors claimed that the authorities never withheld any information about other Baton Rouge rapists.
In February, they wrote, “The state was not obligated to document for the defense every rape or abduction that occurred in Baton Rouge from 1971 to 1974.”
In 1974, a Louisiana state Supreme Court justice wrote an opinion that said the prosecutor who secured the conviction against Jones was responsible for 11 reversed convictions over the preceding year. The justices noted that that was “an incredible statistic for a single prosecutor.”
Attorneys from the Innocence Project New Orleans began working on Jones’ case 15 years ago. They describe him as a “highly trusted prisoner and a frail, aging man” who doesn’t pose a danger to the community. They wrote in a court filing that the late nurse’s husband was not opposed to Jones’ release and believes he should be able to spend his remaining years with his family.
Emily Maw, an attorney with the Innocence Project, choked up while speaking to reporters about Jones’ case.
“It takes a long time sometimes for courts to recognize a wrong,” she said.
Read more at NBC News.