Editorial: Noble work

KU law students’ success in freeing prisoners who were wrongfully convicted brings credit to the entire university.

The University of Kansas School of Law is to be commended for its continued work on behalf of individuals who have been wrongfully convicted.

Many of those individuals, like Richard Jones, have spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Jones was released from prison last week after serving 17 years of a 19-year sentence for a 1999 aggravated robbery conviction. He was convicted of snatching a woman’s purse in a Walmart parking lot.

Jones had always maintained his innocence and even had a verified alibi, yet he lost all of his appeals. That’s when KU School of Law’s Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and the Midwest Innocence Project took up his case.

Jones had been convicted solely on an eyewitness identification. When KU students met with Jones, he told them that in prison he was frequently mistaken for an inmate named Ricky Amos. The students researched Amos, whose booking photo bore a striking resemblance to Jones’ — same hairstyle, facial hair, skin color and similar in age. They even shared the same first name.

That led the Project for Innocence to challenge the photo lineups that police gave witnesses. Jones’ photo was the only one of six that had specific features matching the victim’s description. In one, Jones was the only person with light skin. In another, four of the six photos had blues eyes.

In his ruling, Judge Kevin Moriarty said it was unlikely that a reasonable juror would have found Jones guilty in light of the new evidence.

“Witnesses were presented with no other option but to choose Jones in the lineups as created,” said Alice Craig, Jones’ attorney and a professor at KU’s Project for Innocence. “None of the other photos matched the description provided by the witnesses.”

Jones’ case is just the latest victory that the KU Project for Innocence can claim. Since 2008, the project has won more than 40 direct appeals, constitutional challenges and actual innocence cases. Among those successes was helping secure the release in 2015 of Floyd Bledsoe, who spent 16 years in prison for a murder that evidence showed his brother committed.

It’s a travesty of justice when people like Jones and Bledsoe spend years in prison for crimes they did not commit, and the KU Project for Innocence does noble work on their behalf. The project’s successes bring honor to the law students and professors involved as well as to the university overall.