Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2012

Topeka police chief identifies suspect in decades-old rape that sent innocent man to prison

April 19, 2012


The Shawnee County district attorney Thursday issued an arrest warrant for Kansas inmate Joel L. Russell, 46, in a 27-year-old sexual assault for which another man was wrongfully convicted.

Joel Russell, 46, already incarcerated for a sexual assualt, was identified earlier this year as a suspect in a 1985 rape and kidnapping of a Topeka woman. Joe Jones, a Topeka man, had been convicted of the crime, but was released when DNA evidence showed he was innocent.

Joel Russell, 46, already incarcerated for a sexual assualt, was identified earlier this year as a suspect in a 1985 rape and kidnapping of a Topeka woman. Joe Jones, a Topeka man, had been convicted of the crime, but was released when DNA evidence showed he was innocent.

Exonerated, but still not free

Joe Jones was the first person in the state to be exonerated of a crime by DNA evidence, but life after prison has been difficult.

Joe Jones sits in his small sparse apartment just blocks from the capital building in Topeka. Jones is trying to get his life together these days after spending nearly eight years in prison for a rape but was cleared through DNA evidence.

Nearly 20 years after winning an exoneration, he's still trying to reclaim a life derailed by prison and drugs, while the victim remains convinced of his guilt. More


Russell, who is currently serving prison time for two other sexual assaults, was identified as a suspect in the Aug. 24, 1985, rape and kidnapping of a Topeka woman following DNA testing. The arrest warrant was for a single count of rape.

Topeka resident Joe Jones originally was convicted of the 1985 crime, but was exonerated in 1992 after DNA evidence excluded him as the rapist. Jones’ struggles after his release were highlighted in an October Journal-World article. While reporting that story, the Journal-World discovered the evidence that exonerated Jones had been preserved by a California lab that initially performed the testing. The discovery prompted the Topeka Police Department’s Cold Case Unit to reopen the case.

“It’s a good day,” said Topeka Police Chief Ronald Miller, who announced the arrest warrant Thursday afternoon. “We got the right guy. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Now we’re going to seek justice in this case.”

In addition to the evidence in California, the Cold Case Unit found testable evidence from the case at the Kansas Bureau of Investigations. That DNA was tested and matched Russell’s DNA profile in the Combined DNA Index System, the national DNA databank commonly referred to as CODIS.

Russell was convicted in 1986 for a string of assaults in the Topeka area that had similarities to the crime for which Jones was wrongfully convicted. In three crimes in November and December of 1985, Russell threatened women with a knife, as in Jones’ case. One of the incidents also occurred at the Bare Essentials nightclub at 916 Kansas Ave., the same location from which the victim was abducted from in the case that sent Jones to prison.

Russell spent six years in prison and was released in 1992. He was arrested again in Reno County that year and convicted of rape, aggravated sodomy and indecent liberties with a child. Russell received an indeterminate sentence and is eligible for parole in June.

Jones’ original conviction was based primarily on the eyewitness testimony of the victim and two witnesses to the abduction. Jones convinced lawyers at the Kansas University Defender Project to take his case, and his exoneration in 1992 was just the seventh such DNA exoneration in the country at the time. It was the first in Kansas.

In 1992, no DNA databank existed for the information to be enter into, and the evidence had not been retested until recently.

Jones has been in contact with police, receiving updates on developments in the case.

Notified of the news Thursday, Jones said, “I’m really pleased. I’m going to treasure it for a while.”


ljwhirled 5 years, 10 months ago

Lets take your statement to its logical conclusion.

What you are saying, tennessee, is that Russell should get the death penalty for the crime. I agree he likely deserves it, If this guy really did commit the crimes as the DNA suggests, then he is a sociopath and a mad dog that needs to be put down.

But, since Jones was convicted of the same crime in 1985, under your argument he should also have gotten the death penalty. I mean, the law is the law and until he was exonerated, Jones was guilty in the eyes of the law.

So your statement is that we should have executed an innocent man, then when the conviction turned out to be false, we should execute the perpetrator.

This type of case is exactly why I oppose the death penalty. You can't exonerate a dead man.

I'd rather have 1,000 guilty men avoid a well deserved lethal injection than see 1 innocent man go to the gallows.

Alex Parker 5 years, 10 months ago

As we reported in October, Jones was awarded $350,000.

ljwhirled 5 years, 10 months ago

Also, LJWorld, I thought you didn't identify suspects in sex crimes until they are convicted.

Russell is a bad guy, a convicted serial rapist and a child molester, but in this case he is still innocent until convicted by a jury of his peers.

That is the way the system works, you should be consistent in your application of editorial policy.

DennisAnderson 5 years, 10 months ago

Ljwhirled: Thanks for asking. We take this issue very seriously. In this case we considered our policy but decided to make an exception because of Russell's history and the circumstances of this case. Dennis Anderson Managing editor

progressive_thinker 5 years, 10 months ago

Mr. Anderson: Good call. I doubt that you will tarnish Russell's image.

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