A University of Kansas law school effort helped free a wrongfully convicted man from prison this week.
Richard Jones was released from prison on Thursday, after his robbery conviction was overturned in Johnson County District Court the previous day, according to a news release from the Midwest Innocence Project and the KU School of Law’s Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence. Jones had served 17 years of a 19-year sentence for an aggravated robbery conviction stemming from a 1999 purse-snatching at a Walmart parking lot.
“Richard Jones has declared his innocence for more than 16 years, with the support of a number of lawyers, investigators and law students, including the Midwest Innocence Project,” Alice Craig, attorney for Jones and professor at KU’s Project for Innocence, said in the release. “We are thankful that a court finally joined him in that declaration.”
Jones had previously exhausted his appeals, but the court found that Jones was entitled to relief to prevent a manifest injustice, according to the release.
The Midwest Innocence Project and the KU Project for Innocence took on his case as a joint venture.
According to the organizations, Jones was convicted based solely on eyewitness identification despite having a verified alibi. On Wednesday his attorneys presented evidence that it was likely another man who committed the crime and showed “flawed” practices used in police lineups that contributed to Jones’ original conviction.
In a bench ruling, Judge Kevin Moriarty ruled it was more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found Jones guilty in light of the new evidence, according to the organizations.
Craig, in the release, summarized the problem this way: “Witnesses were presented with no other option but to choose Jones in the lineups as created. None of the other photos matched the description provided by the witnesses.”
In his ruling this week, according to the release, the judge noted that in one lineup, Jones was the only “light-skinned individual,” and that in a second lineup, four of the six suspects had blue eyes, even though none of the witnesses had described the assailant as having blue eyes.
In 2016, the Kansas Legislature passed a law requiring law enforcement to adopt a written policy regarding eyewitness identification procedures to reduce wrongful convictions.
The Midwest Innocence Project is a not-for-profit corporation aimed at investigating and exonerating cases of wrongful conviction. In addition to its partnership with the KU Innocence Project, the organization also partners with students and lawyers at the University of Missouri law schools in Kansas City and Columbia to help research cases.
The KU Innocence Project has won more than 40 direct appeals, constitutional challenges and actual innocence cases since 2008, according to KU.