Richard Jones spent 17 years behind bars all because he looked remarkably like another man, Ricky Amos. Richard's worst nightmare came true when he was convicted of a crime he didn't commit, simply because of eyewitness misidentification.
ABC News reported that Richard Jones' conviction has now been overturned after the University of Kansas School of Law and the Midwest Innocence Project were able to uncover what's now firmly believed to be a wrongful conviction.
In an interview with Good Morning America, Richard Jones said that he had "hoped and prayed every day" for the day when he could have his freedom back, and when it finally came, it was an "overwhelming feeling."
It was almost 20 years ago that Richard Jones was charged with aggravated robbery in Kansas City. At the time, it was alleged that he was trying to steal a woman's purse in the parking lot of the Walmart in Roeland Park. Regardless of the fact that he had an alibi and that no fingerprints or DNA ever linked him to the crime, he was still found guilty on just two eyewitness identifications.
Witnesses at the time told police that the man they saw was either an African-American or light-skinned Hispanic man. The victim of the robbery, Tamara Scherer, and a security guard, Ronald Cowan, picked Richard Jones out of six mugshots. It was those two eyewitness testimonies that ultimately landed Richard in jail at the Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas.
Ever since Richard was arrested 17 years ago, he has adamantly maintained his innocence, and for the past five years, he's been trying to appeal his conviction. It was only when he teamed up with the Midwest Innocence Project and was able to explain that there was another man incarcerated who looked just like him that things started to look hopeful for him.
Interns at the Midwest Innocence Project discovered photos of another inmate in the Kansas State system by the name of Ricky Amos. The two men were roughly the same age, had similar skin tone, and the same facial hair and cornrows.
"Once I had seen his picture beside mine and I seen the resemblance me and him had, I just knew. It was understandable why other people would say the same thing."After both witnesses admitted they were unable to tell Jones and Amos apart, a judge finally ordered Jones' release last week. Richard first saw his lookalike at his exoneration hearing. To date, Amos has denied any involvement in the crime.
"It was hard. I won't say it was easy because it wasn't, but I made it through."John Cowles, now a criminal defense attorney, was the original prosecutor on the case. He said that Jones' conviction was based "solely on eyewitness identification." On the day of the crime, Richard's alibi placed him at his girlfriend's house in Kansas City. Tia Kidd and her sister Lisa both testified on Jones' behalf but to no avail. Jones was convicted and sentenced to 19 years jail, which included time for four prior unrelated offenses. However, after being presented with new evidence by The Innocent Project, Cowles signed an affidavit. This evidence highlighted the misidentification of Jones and included Amos's involvement.
Cowles gave a statement to ABC News about the unfortunate circumstances that led to the incarceration of the wrong man.
"I realized that we had very unfortunately convicted the wrong man. We spoke at the hearing and he was appreciative and I wished him luck."Cowles said that because of the Statute of Limitations, Amos will not be charged for the 1999 robbery that Richard Jones served time for.
Richard's attorney, Alice Craig, said there's no law in Kansas allowing compensation for people who have been wrongly imprisoned, and it is not yet known if Richard will file a lawsuit against the state.
As for Richard Jones, he says he's keeping his faith in God, enjoying his family, and hopes to begin work with The Innocence Project to help in the release of others who have been wrongly convicted.
People magazine reported that Richard Jones was released on June 8 after serving the majority of his 19-year sentence for aggravated robbery in Kansas City. The ABC reported that Jones became aware that the real culprit was a man who not only looked like him but was in the same prison.
Richard was only 24-years-old when he was convicted of trying to steal a woman's purse in the parking lot of a Walmart. Two flawed eyewitness accounts resulted in a guilty verdict for Richard, and it was only recently that Richard told staff at the Midwest Innocence Project and the University of Kansas School of Law that he was often mistaken for Ricky Amos, a man he'd never met.
"It made a lot of things understandable for me concerning this whole case. I just looked at how much me and this man looked alike and it was unbelievable. I believe it was a striking resemblance. It just blew me away."A judge has now ruled that based on this new evidence, no reasonable juror would have ever convicted Jones.
The Washington Post reported that on May 31, 1999, which happened to be Memorial Day and Richard Jones' girlfriend's birthday, Richard attended a party with family and friends at his home in Kansas City.
Across the border a few miles into Kansas City, three people had been driving around and smoking crack cocaine all day. After running out of drugs they drove to a neighborhood where they knew people sold crack. Pulling up outside a duplex, they were joined by a man known as Rick.
Getting into the car, Rick told them to go to a nearby Walmart where he got out of the car and tried to snatch a woman's purse in the parking lot. The woman fought against him, and he ended up taking her phone instead. She wasn't able to get a good look at her attacker and the store security guard wasn't clear on what he saw either. According to court records, all they knew was that he was a thin, light-skinned black or Hispanic man with dark hair.
Because both the police and eyewitnesses believed the man involved was Richard Jones, they assume he went by the nickname Rick. Months later, Jones was arrested and the following year he was convicted of aggravated robbery. This was despite his alibi that he never left his home that Memorial Day. In fact, one of the witnesses claimed the robber had a tattoo on his left arm, and at that time Jones didn't have one. On this flimsy evidence, Richard Jones was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
For many years, Richard Jones sat in jail, bitter and confused about why he was there. It was only several years later that things began to make sense. Investigators concluded that the crime was most likely committed by another man, someone who looked like him with a similar first name.Ricky Amos had been in and out of prison since the 1990s, and eventually, the two men ended up in the same correctional facility. Jones was told by inmates that there was a man who looks just like him who was also a prisoner there. According to Jones' attorney, others would say, "Hey, you were in the cafeteria and you didn't say hello to me."
There certainly was an uncanny resemblance between the two; their goatees, braided hairstyles, thick eyebrows, dark eyes, and complexion were strikingly similar.
Alice Craig took over Jones' case in 2015 after he'd lost all of his appeals. After Richard told her about his doppelganger, things started to unravel. She discovered that Amos lived with his mother not far from the Walmart store where the robbery occurred.
When they were evicted in May 1999, they moved in with Amos's brother and his wife who lived in a duplex on West 41st Street, just around the corner. This was where the three addicts who were looking for drugs would later pick up the man named Rick.
The robbery victim, Tamara Scherer, admitted that she no longer felt certain that she had "identified the right person at the preliminary hearing and trial."
"If I had seen both men at the time I would not have felt comfortable choosing between the two men and possibly sending a man to prison."According to The Innocence Project, Richard Jones's conviction was based solely on flawed eyewitness testimony - the greatest contributing factor to wrongful conviction. Equally flawed was the police photo line-up, seemingly designed for witnesses to identify no-one else but Jones. The photo showed Jones and five black men, with Jones being the only one with light skin. Richard Jones is now 41-years-old. He spent 17 years behind bars and missed his children's childhoods and the births of his grandchildren. He was freed on Thursday, just two years short of finishing his prison sentence.
Richard was not available for an interview on Monday, but Craig said that knowing about his doppelganger has brought some relief to him.
"He spent a long time in prison being pretty bitter about being convicted of a crime that he didn't commit, and he knew he didn't commit. And he couldn't figure out why these people would pick him out of a line-up."[Featured Image by Kansas Department of Corrections/AP Images]