OLATHE, Kan. (AP) — A Missouri man who spent nearly 17 years in prison for a 1999 robbery was freed after supporters found another man who looked enough like him that the victim and other witnesses said they could no longer be sure who committed the crime.
Richard Anthony Jones, of Kansas City, Missouri, always maintained he didn’t commit the robbery and two years ago asked two organizations that advocate for inmates for help proving his innocence.
Lawyers for the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project at the University of Kansas took up his cause. At a hearing Wednesday in Johnson County District Court, they presented the other man and argued for Jones’ freedom. After the victim and witnesses withdrew their identification of Jones, Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty ordered Jones’ release, The Kansas City Star reported. Jones was released Thursday.
“We were floored by how much they looked alike,” said Jones’ attorney, Alice Craig.
While not saying the other man committed the crime, Moriarty found that based on the new evidence, no reasonable juror would have convicted Jones.
The other man, known as “Ricky,” testified at the hearing that he did not commit the robbery.
During their investigation, Jones’ supporters found evidence that the other man lived in Kansas City, Kansas, near where the robbery occurred at a Walmart in Roeland Park. No DNA, fingerprint or other physical evidence linked Jones to the crime but he was convicted of aggravated robbery based on eyewitness testimony.
Investigators focused on Jones after his picture was picked out of a police database three months after the crime by a man who admitted he was on drugs during his only encounter with Jones, according to court documents filed by the defense.
Jones’ lawyers argued the lineup of photos shown to the victim and other witnesses was “highly suggestive,” with Jones’ picture the only one of six photographs that resembled the description of the robbery suspect.
After the innocence project attorneys showed the pictures of the two men to the victim, two witnesses and the prosecutor in Jones’ case, all four said they could not tell the two men apart.
At trial, Jones testified that he was with his girlfriend and other family members in Kansas City on the day of the robbery. He was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison and unsuccessfully appealed the conviction and sentence.
Craig said Jones was bitter and angry during his incarceration but when he saw the picture of the other man, he understood how easily the witnesses could have been mistaken.
“Everybody has a doppelganger,” Craig said. “Luckily we found his.”