A Missouri man who served 17 years for an attempted purse snatching that he consistently denied committing has been released after he and his lawyers found an alternate suspect in a prisoner who looks just like him.
Richard Anthony Jones, of Kansas City, served almost 17 years of his prison sentence before his conviction was overturned on Wednesday. The Kansas City Star reported that Jones had been sentenced to serve just under 20 years in prison for the 1999 crime, which occurred outside a Walmart in Roeland Park, Kansas.
“Everybody has a doppelganger,” one of Jones’ attorneys, Alice Craig, told the Star. “Luckily, we found his.”
Jones was convicted based on eyewitness testimony, despite having an alibi that placed him across the state line in Missouri at the time of the crime. Eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, according to the Midwest Innocence Project, which worked with Craig and the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas’ School of Law to obtain Jones’ release.
Craig said that the witnesses were given one photo lineup in which Jones was the only light-skinned person pictured.
In a second lineup, four of the six suspects had blue eyes, which also did not align with witness descriptions of the man they saw commit the crime. The lineups were done three months after the fact, KCUR in Kansas City reported.
Jones was arrested five months after the crime. Despite there being no physical evidence linking him to the crime, he was convicted and sent to prison.
“If you believe it just happens to certain people, people with criminal histories and things of that nature, it doesn’t,” Jones told KCUR after his release. “It can happen to anybody. And it took me to go to prison to see that.”
Jones heard multiple times from fellow inmates over the years about another prisoner who not only could pass for his twin, but who also had the same first name. The Star reported that, though he never ran into the other inmate while behind bars, Jones passed the information off to his lawyers.
Craig told the Star that their investigation found evidence that the other potential suspect lived near the scene of the crime in 1999. Jones lived across the state line in Kansas City.
The attorney said she and her colleagues were stunned when they saw a photo of the other man. The man, who like Jones is a light-skinned man of color, has the same hairstyle, mustache and goatee, and a similar facial structure.
“We were floored by how much they looked alike,” Craig told the Star.
When Craig and Innocence Project attorneys showed photos of Jones and the other man to the victim, witnesses and even the prosecutor in the case, they all said they could not tell the men apart.
“This court has no doubt, although that isn’t the standard, that a jury would not be able to reach a determination that this defendant was guilty,” Johnson County (Kansas) District Judge Kevin Moriarty said during the hearing in Jones’ case, KCUR reported. “This court does not believe any reasonable jury could have made such a decision in this case.
The alternate suspect, whose full name has not been released, testified Wednesday at Jones’ hearing. He denied being the man who committed the crime in 1999, the Star reported.
Jones told KCUR that he did not believe that he would be set free until the judge spoke the words. He said hearing it was “a beautiful thing.”
The newly exonerated man now has to get reacquainted with his family, including his children.
“When I got locked up, my kids were kids and now they’re grown,” Jones told the radio station. “That gives you an idea of what type of time people are doing and the type of time a person can do for a crime they didn’t commit.”
A GoFundMe page set up to help Jones now that he is free raised more than $12,000 in two days.
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