After spending years denying that he had committed the 1999 purse snatching that landed him in prison, Richard Anthony Jones was finally released on Wednesday. He had served nearly 16 years of a 19 year prison sentence.
While serving his sentence Jones had repeatedly heard that there was another prisoner who bore a strong resemblance to him. Not only did they look alike, but Jones discovered that they also share the same first name.
Jones suspected that this man may have committed the crime that he was convicted of and contacted the Midwest Innocence Project. They put him in touch with the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project at the University of Kansas, who paired him with attorney Alice Craig. His legal team later discovered that his doppelganger not only shared his first name, but he also lived in the area where the crime was committed. Jones did not live in the area- he lived across the state line.
Jones was convicted of a purse snatching in a Walmart packing lot on May 31, 1999. The victim of the robbery, Tamara Scherer, picked him out of a lineup three months after the crime took place.
The entire case was based on eyewitness identification, which studies have shown to be highly unreliable. At Wednesday’s hearing in Johnson County District Court, the victim of the crime testified that she could not tell the pictures of the two men apart.
Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty said from the bench, “This court has no doubt — although that isn’t the standard — has no doubt that a jury would not be able to reach a determination that this defendant was guilty and this court does not believe any reasonable jury could have made such a decision in this case.”
Jones had always maintained that he was an innocent man.
“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.”
When interviewed after his release, Jones could hardly believe that he was finally free.
“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.”
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