When Wilbert Jones was 19 years old, he was arrested in Louisiana on suspicion he kidnapped a nurse at gun point and raped her. In 1974, Jones was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. According to NBC, about two weeks ago State District Court Judge Richard Anderson overturned Jones’ conviction and it’s reported the now 65-year-old is a free man.
Judge Anderson called the evidence leveled against Jones “weak at best” and said authorities withheld evidence that could’ve exonerated Jones decades ago. Jones’ family members were visibly emotional and fought back tears while in court, however once outside, Jones’ niece, Wajeedah said they know exactly what to do to welcome him home.
“We will have the gumbo ready for him when he gets out,” she said.
The state’s case against Jones was built entirely on the victim’s testimony and her “questionable identification” of Jones as the rapist. The nurse, who died in 2008, picked Jones out of lineup three weeks after the attack but also told authorities her assailant was taller and had a “much rougher” voice than Jones.
Jones’ lawyer claims the victim’s description matched a man who was arrested but never charged in the rape of another woman kidnapped and rapped in a Baton Rouge parking lot. That same man was arrested on suspicion of rape again in 1973, but only charged and convicted of armed robbery.
Anderson said authorities knew of the blaring similarities between the other man and Jones but “Nevertheless, the state failed to provide this information to the defense,” he wrote. Prosecutors denied the allegations.
“The state was not obligated to document for the defense every rape or abduction that occurred in Baton Rouge from 1971 to 1974,” prosecutors refuted in a written statement back in February.
Jones’ attorney Emily Maw who works with the Louisiana Innocence Project has been working the case for 15 years and choked up at the overturn of Jones’ guilty verdict.
“It takes a long time sometimes for courts to recognize a wrong,” she said.