News 10.12.18

Innocence Project New Orleans Client Exonerated After 46-Year Fight for Freedom

By Innocence Staff

Wilbert Jones holds hands with his niece after he was released from prison in November 2017. Photo: Time Magazine, courtesy of IPNO.

Yesterday, Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) client Wilbert Jones was exonerated in Baton Rouge after a 46-year fight for his freedom. Jones was wrongly convicted in 1973 for the October 1971 kidnapping and rape of a nurse at Baton Rouge General Hospital. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Related: Innocence Project New Orleans Argues Case of Client Imprisoned Since 1974

In November 2017, Jones was released on bail after a state district judge ruled that “highly favorable” evidence was withheld from Jones’ defense and that this evidence likely changed the original outcome of the case.

In a press release, IPNO Senior Counsel Emily Maw commented: “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.”

“Wilbert’s entire ordeal stemmed from a mistaken witness whose mistake could have been prevented with better police procedures.” – IPNO Staff Attorney Kia Hayes

IPNO began working on Jones’ case in 2001. They uncovered that the victim had told police she was not 100 percent certain of her identification of Jones, who was arrested four months after the crime occurred. Despite this, Jones’ conviction rested primarily on the victim’s identification of him.

“Wilbert’s entire ordeal stemmed from a mistaken witness whose mistake could have been prevented with better police procedures,” IPNO Staff Attorney Kia Hayes stated in a press release.

IPNO also discovered that authorities had connected the rape for which Jones was convicted to a suspected serial rapist who exactly matched the victim’s initial description of her attacker. This information, however, was never disclosed to the defense. According to IPNO, the alleged serial rapist is alive, free and currently living in Baton Rouge.

“Wilbert Jones spent more time wrongly imprisoned than any known exonerated American.” – IPNO Executive Director Jee Park

“Wilbert Jones spent more time wrongly imprisoned than any known exonerated American,” said IPNO Executive Director Jee Park. “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.”

She added: “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.”

When Jones’ attorneys informed him of the news yesterday morning, he was overwhelmed.

“He thanked God and then said he wanted to vote,” said Hayes.

Read the full press release here.

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  1. Tina Belon says:

    That is awful for someone to spend their life in prison when he is in fact innocent. I have a cousin in prison now. He was 18 when is was arrested and sentenced to life. He is now 56 years of age. He could not read or write when arrested. He only finished the 6th grade. When he was interrogated for 12 hours they ask him to sign a paper. He certainly did not know what he was signing and signed his life away. I pray that the innocent project will soon find out that my cousin Calvin C. Carter is innocent. I thank them for all of their work in exonerating these men who never should have been jailed. My heart goes out to them all and the innocent project for their release.

  2. Catherine Geever says:

    HOW in hell can anyone be sent to prison based on the verbal say-so of only ONE person – let alone for 46 years!!??? WHATEVER happened to the concept of blood/tissue samples from the crime scene/victim, so they could be compared to that of the defendant?? (That technology DID exist back in the 1970’s, but not DNA testing, yet). But NO – that is TOO logical and fair – can’t have that!! FIRST, we MUST ruin the suspect’s life, then worry about the validity of his hasty conviction decades later, if ever. This is how the United States has the HIGHEST rate of imprisonment in the world! This “special distinction” enables politicians to get elected and re-elected nationwide from the BIG BUSINESS of mass incarceration. Amen.

    • Michael FreeJoeHunt says:
      Beautifully said, Catherine. Great to see signs of life in criminal justice reform. Michael for

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