Caption in The Times: Richard Jones, right, was convicted of a crime committed by Richard Amos
A piece by Boer Dang in today’s Times:
A case of mistaken identity that put a man in prison for nearly two decades may now cost the state of Kansas more than $1 million.
In 1999 Richard Jones was convicted of attacking and robbing a woman in a car park in Kansas City and sentenced to 19 years in prison.
Mr Jones, now 42, did not commit the crime — he was at a birthday party elsewhere in the city at the time of the attack — but was picked out by witnesses from a line of suspects.
After 17 years it emerged that the attacker was a man who looked uncannily like Mr Jones and was also named Richard, but with the surname Amos. Mr Jones was freed in June last year after serving nearly all of the sentence in what has been described as the “doppelgänger case”.
He has now petitioned the state of Kansas for $1.1 million in compensation, or $65,000 for each year he spent behind bars.
“Mr Jones now asks this court to officially recognise his innocence, so that he may close this painful chapter of his life and obtain the clean slate and financial support that the legislature intended for wrongfully convicted persons,” his lawyers wrote in court documents.
The petition also seeks an official declaration of innocence and funding for college tuition, counselling and housing. “This compensation is relatively small given the unfathomable hardship of 17 years of wrongful imprisonment,” Mr Jones’s lawyers said.
At the time of his arrest, he was 25 and had two young daughters. “I was not perfect, but I was a big part of their lives, and when I got incarcerated it was hard for me because I was used to being around for my kids,” Mr Jones told The New York Times. His children are now 24 and 19, and he has become a grandfather.
Reformers have held up Mr Jones’s case as an example of the flaws in the US justice system. “Richard’s case is a testament to the long, difficult and expensive process it takes to overturn a wrongful conviction,” said Tricia Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project, a charity that provides legal services to convicts with claims of innocence.
Misidentification by eyewitnesses is the greatest contributing factor to a worrying number of wrongful convictions in the US, according to the charity, yet legal precedents have meant that they are still relied on heavily in court proceedings.
The woman involved in the 1999 robbery who mistakenly identified Mr Jones admitted that she did not get a good look at the perpetrator and only saw the back of his head. There was no physical evidence placing him at the scene and his photograph was the only one in the lineup of six that fitted the description of hairstyle and skin colour. [J4MB: In plain English, the police rigged the process in order to get a conviction of an innocent man.]
When presented with a photograph of Amos at Mr Jones’s appeal, she admitted that she could not be certain which was the attacker. [J4MB emphasis]
Last year the judge concluded that there was “no doubt that a jury would not be able to reach a determination that this defendant was guilty”, and Mr Jones was freed.
It is close to inconceivable that a mother of two young children would have been convicted under similar circumstances.
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