Innocent Kan. Man Walks Free After Spending 16 Years in Prison for a Failed Purse Snatching

Richard A. Jones (Midwest Innocence Project)
Richard A. Jones (Midwest Innocence Project)

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.

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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.

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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.

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The man who most likely committed the crime is on the left, and Richard A. Jones  is pictured on the right.
The man who most likely committed the crime is on the left, and Richard A. Jones is pictured on the right.

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.

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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.

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“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.”

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A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Jones as he adjusts to freedom.

Read more at KCUR.

Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.

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DISCUSSION

GirlwithNoName64
GirlwithNoName64

And when people ask (like they did on an article a week ago) “why would someone take a plea on a crime they didn’t commit?!??” This right here.

Totally innocent people go to jail for excessively long periods for relatively minor crimes when they reject pleas and try to prove their innocence. No doubt the prosecutor chose to press the most serious charge he could when he (or she) was forced to actually try and prove his case. Even if you are innocent, a trial is a serious roll of the dice.