In prison for a crime he adamantly denied committing, Richard Anthony Jones repeatedly heard from others that there was another prisoner who looked just like him.
Not only were they doppelgangers, but Jones was told that he and the other man shared the same first name.
Jones never ran across the man, but the lawyers he passed the information on to began digging into his case and came to the conclusion that Jones was indeed an innocent man.
On Wednesday, they made their case to a Johnson County judge, and on Thursday Jones walked free after serving nearly 17 years in prison for a 1999 robbery in Roeland Park.
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Not only did he bear an uncanny resemblance to the other man with the same first name, but his lawyers uncovered the fact that the other man lived near the area of where the crime occurred, while Jones lived across the state line in Kansas City.
At Wednesday’s hearing in Johnson County District Court, witnesses, including the robbery victim, testified that looking at pictures of the two men together, they could no longer say if Jones was the perpetrator.
Based on their testimony and the new evidence, Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty ordered Jones’ release.
While stopping short of saying that the other man committed the crime, the judge found that based on the new evidence, no reasonable juror would have convicted Jones.
The other man also testified at Wednesday’s hearing and denied that he was the one who committed the robbery.
“We were floored by how much they looked alike,” Jones’ attorney Alice Craig said about seeing his picture alongside the picture of the other man known as “Ricky.”
Jones’ freedom came about two years after he contacted the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project at the University of Kansas where Craig works.
Their ensuing investigation turned up evidence that the other man lived in Kansas City, Kan., near where the suspect in the robbery was picked up at a drug house and taken to the Walmart in Roeland Park where the robbery was committed.
There was no DNA, fingerprint or any other kind of physical evidence that linked Jones to the crime.
It was only the testimony of eyewitnesses that prosecutors used to get the conviction against Jones.
And eyewitness identification is widely recognized in legal circles as being unreliable.
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Jones became the focus of the investigation after his picture was picked out of a police database three months after the crime by a man who was admittedly on drugs during his only encounter with Jones, according to court documents filed by the defense.
The lineup of photos subsequently shown to the victim and other witnesses was “highly suggestive,” his lawyers argued. The picture of Jones was the only one of the six photographs in the lineup that resembled the description of the robbery suspect, they maintained.
At trial, Jones presented an alibi defense that he was with his girlfriend and other family members in Kansas City on the day of the robbery.
But the victim and another witness identified him as the robber and the jury found him guilty of aggravated robbery.
He was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison.
He unsuccessfully appealed the conviction and sentence.
But after the innocence project attorneys showed the 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.
Last December, Craig filed the legal action that led to his release Thursday.
“Richard Jones has presented sufficient evidence to meet the under of manifest injustice (under Kansas law),” his attorneys said in their motion seeking his release. “Mr. Jones was convicted solely on eyewitness testimony that has been proven to be inherently flawed and unreliable.”
Craig said that during his incarceration, Jones was understandably bitter and angry about being in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, 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.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Jones as he adjusts to freedom.
From Crimes Stoppers of Greater Kansas City-Kansas City's most wanted fugitives.Chris Ochsner and David Pulliam The Kansas City Star