Nearly 50 years since a Louisiana man was sentenced to life in prison in the kidnapping and rape of a nurse, a judge has overturned his conviction. He is expected to walk out of prison Wednesday morning a free man.
State District Court Judge Richard Anderson previously said the case against Wilbert Jones, 65, was “weak at best” and that authorities withheld evidence that could have exonerated Jones decades ago.
The Global News reports that ,Jones didn’t show any visible reaction when Anderson set his bail Tuesday at a mere $2,000.
But his relatives embraced one another and fought back tears outside the courtroom. Wajeedah Jones said she already knows what her uncle’s first request would be.
Prosecutors said they do not intend to retry Jones.
Jones was 19 when police arrested him on suspicion of abducting a nurse at gunpoint from a Baton Rouge hospital’s parking lot and raping her behind a building on the night of Oct. 2, 1971. Jones was convicted of aggravated rape at a 1974 retrial and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The state’s case against Jones “rested entirely” on the nurse’s testimony and her “questionable identification” of Jones as her assailant, the judge has said. The nurse, who died in 2008, picked Jones out of a police lineup more than three months after the rape. But she also told police that the man who raped her was taller and had a “much rougher” voice than Jones had.
Jones’ lawyers claim the nurse’s description matches a man who was arrested but never charged in the rape of a woman abducted from the parking lot of another Baton Rouge hospital, 27 days after the nurse’s attack. The same man also was arrested on suspicion of raping yet another woman in 1973, but was only charged and convicted of armed robbery in that case.
Anderson said the evidence shows police knew of the similarities between that man and the nurse’s description of her attacker.
“Nevertheless, the state failed to provide this information to the defense,” he wrote.
Prosecutors denied that authorities withheld any relevant evidence about other Baton Rouge rapists.
Jones’ attorneys from Innocence Project New Orleans describe him as a “highly trusted prisoner and a frail, aging man” who doesn’t pose a danger to the community. The late nurse’s husband isn’t opposed to his release, they wrote in a court filing.
“He feels that Mr. Jones has been in prison long enough and that he should be able to get out and spend his remaining years with his family,” the lawyers wrote.
Jones’ attorney Emily Maw choked up while talking about the case, which the Innocence Project started working on about 15 years ago.
“It takes a long time sometimes for courts to recognize a wrong,” she said.