A Louisiana man was released from prison Thursday (June 27) after spending over 17 years behind bars for a crime that he didn’t commit. Royal Clark Jr.’s road to exoneration began after the New Orleans Innocence Project convinced the Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office to re-examine fingerprint evidence in his case, NOLA.com reports.
The IPNO filed a motion to throw out Clark’s conviction after he was proven innocent. Judicial District Court Judge Donald Rowan vacated the conviction following a short hearing Thursday.
Clark walked out of Louisiana’s Angola prison one day after his 42nd birthday. He was greeted by his mother, father, sister, and teenage son.
Clark was wrongfully convicted on the strength of an eyewitness who falsely identified him as the suspect in a Burger King robbery in 2001. The guilty verdict was handed down on Clark’s 25th birthday.
Although Clark always maintained innocence, it wasn’t until the INPO began representing him last year that he finally had a chance at being released. The organization requested that the D.A. take another look at a fingerprint found on a cup used by the suspect prior to the robbery. Authorities ran the fingerprint through a state database and it matched that of Jessie Perry, a 54-year-old man serving 30 years in prison for a string of similar robberies.
Authorities said that the advancement in technology used to exonerate Clark wasn’t around at the time of the crime.
“There is currently no clear law that gives prisoners a right to ask for these forensic database searches in cases not involving DNA,” the IPNO pointed out in a news release according to The Advocate. “If the [D.A.’s Office] had refused to re-examine and run the prints, Mr. Clark would likely have stayed in prison until he was 74 years old for a crime he did not commit.”
The IPNO is advocating for the Louisiana Legislature, or the Louisiana Supreme Court, to “create a clear legal right for prisoners to access forensic databases in appropriate cases so that truth can prevail.”
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In response to Clark’s exoneration Jefferson Parish D.A. Paul Connick said in a statement that his “obligation to seek justice does not end upon conviction.”
“When the evidence reveals an individual was wrongfully convicted, my office will take action to correct that injustice,” Connick said.