Exonerated, but still not free
The Topeka Police Cold Case Unit wasn’t sure they had any DNA evidence left in the 1985 unsolved rape of a woman in downtown Topeka.
If they had evidence, there’d be no guarantee they could get usable test results.
And if they could test it, there’d be a chance the DNA profile wouldn’t match anyone currently entered into CODIS, the national DNA databank.
But against those odds, Detective Adam Arensdorf of the Topeka police said Wednesday they’d received a hit in the DNA databank, inching closer to resolving the 27-year-old crime.
“A person has been identified,” Arensdorf said. “We’re very excited about this.”
Police must first retest the suspect’s DNA to verify the match before they’ll release the name, Arensdorf said. He estimates that could take two to six weeks.
Topeka man Joe Jones, who was wrongfully convicted of the rape and spent seven years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence, said he’s excited he may finally get some closure in the case.
“Wow,” said Jones, notified by phone Wednesday of the development.
The case has taken many winding turns over the years.
Convicted of rape in 1986 based primarily on eyewitness testimony, Jones convinced lawyers at the Kansas University Defender Project to take his case. In 1992, lawyers were able to obtain DNA testing, which excluded Jones as the rapist. At the time, Jones was just the seventh person in the country to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
Jones was featured in a Journal-World article last year, detailing the struggles and psychological pain caused by his wrongful conviction and incarceration. During that story, the Journal-World discovered that the DNA that freed Jones was sitting in a cooler in California, in the custody of the science firm that helped exonerate Jones.
That prompted the Topeka police to reopen the case. In addition to the DNA stored in California, police located further evidence in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation storage vault. It was that evidence the KBI tested, resulting in the match in the DNA databank.
The victim in the case, who now lives out of state, said she still believed Jones was her attacker when interviewed for the story last year. But the investigation has helped change her mind, she said.
The woman has been in frequent contact with Topeka police and is willing to participate in the investigation.
Arensdorf said police are now re-investigating the crime, as well as the suspect identified by the DNA, and plan to re-interview witnesses.