Kansas City, Missouri, USA : Richard Jones, a man who spent 17-years in prison for a crime he did not commit, is filing a petition for $1million in compensation from the state of Missouri.
Mr Jones was jailed wrongly in 1999 for an armed robbery after a witness pointed him out to the police as the robber.
While in prison, Richard Jones was repeatedly told by other inmates that he looked like a well-known local criminal named Ricky Amos.
After hearing about a criminal who looked just like him from fellow inmates, Jones contacted the ‘Midwest Innocent Project,’ which provides legal assistance to people who have been wrongly incarcerated.
On discovering he has a doppelganger Jones said:
Something like 15 years had passed. By that time, I had filed every type of appeal possible and was denied on all of them.
One of the guys I had got cool with, we just happened to be talking about my case one day. And he thought I was in there for murder! I was like, “Nah, man, I’m here for aggravated robbery,” and I broke my case down to him. The whole time I was talking, he just had his head down looking at the ground.
And when I finished talking, he lifted his head, and said, “Man, I know who did that.It’s a dude named Ricky Amos. You two look so much alike.”
I thought to myself, man this is crazy. When I saw the side angle of the dude and mine too, it was crazy. The same facial structure, hairlines, hair, everything. It just made sense to me.
That day, when I seen that man’s picture, everything fell off me. From anger to resentment. Everything. It all fell off me.
After prolonged investigations, including DNA and fingerprint tests, it turned out that in fact it was not Mr Jones who had committed the crime, but a man of uncanny resemblance who lived on the other side of Kansas, named Ricky Amos.
After it it was discovered that a serious bungle has been made by law enforcement, the judge immediately ordered Jones’ release and Amos’ arrest.
Mr Jones had spent so long languishing in prison, that he had missed watching his now 19-year-old and 24-year-old daughters grow up.
He is quoted as saying that, “It took a big chunk of my life that I can never get back. I am just trying to get stable in my everyday life. I am still transitioning.”
“At that time, I was pretty much trying to be a responsible father. I was not perfect, but I was a big part of their lives, and when I got incarcerated, it was hard for me because I was used to being around for my kids. It was a hard pill to swallow” said Mr Jones.
The petition now in circulation to raise money for Jones reads: “This compensation is relatively small given the unfathomable hardship of 17 years of wrongful imprisonment.”
Jones’ lawyer is quoted as saying that, “we were floored by how much they looked alike. Everybody has a doppelgänger, luckily we found his.”
The petition is the latest twist in what has been described as the “doppelgänger case,” which is set out in court documents that trace the nearly two decades of Jones’ ordeal of arrest, conviction, imprisonment and, finally, freedom.
Jones’ case highlights the flaws in convictions based on eyewitness identification, which is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.
Eyewitness identifications play a role in more than 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing, according to the Midwest Innocence Project, which helped him win release.
In Jones’ case, there was no physical evidence placing him at the scene in the Roeland Park parking lot on May 31, 1999, according to the petition. That day, he was at his home in Kansas City, Missouri, cleaning up after a party with his girlfriend and her sisters, the petition said.
But in Roeland Park, across the state border, at 8 p.m. the same day, a man tried to grab a woman’s handbag as she got out of her car. She resisted but he escaped with her phone, and she saw the back of his head, she told a detective.
Two other people saw the attack, but the three descriptions ranged from a light-skinned black man to a dark-skinned Hispanic to a tanned white man, the petition said.
The getaway car was traced to a man who said he and friends were in search of money for drugs and picked up a man they barely knew as “Rick.”
He was shown hundreds of photographs in a database of men with similar names and features, according to the petition, and erroneously chose Jones as the one he had driven to the parking lot robbery.
Jones was arrested in April 2000, the petition said. In a lineup, his photograph was the only one among the six images to be that of a light-skinned man.
“Witnesses were presented with no other option but to choose Jones in the lineups as created,” said Alice Craig, one of the lawyers and researchers at the University of Kansas School of Law’s Project for Innocence, which helped win his release.
“None of the other photos matched the description provided by the witnesses,” she said in a statement after he was released from prison in June 2017.
During a jury trial, the witnesses, seeing Jones in person, said they were not sure whether he was the attacker, the petition said. But Jones was convicted and sent to prison in 2000.
In prison, he was told about Ricky Amos when inmates started confusing the two. “I took it with a grain of salt,” Jones said Thursday.
But an idea started brewing that he thought could help him, once again, assert his innocence. “I knew it was, at that time, it was my only shot,” he said. “I could not lose. I had to throw it out there.”
Jones sought the help of the Project for Innocence, and Amos’ photograph was tracked down, the project said.
“They looked like they could have been twins,” Chapman Williams, a former intern who had worked on the case at the Project for Innocence, said in 2017. “From there, other pieces of the puzzle began fitting together.”
Amos’ address was identified as the place where the getaway car had stopped to pick up “Rick,” the petition said. A spokesman for the Johnson County district attorney did not immediately return a call about Amos and the status of the robbery case.
Jones filed a motion for postconviction relief, the petition said, and Judge Kevin Moriarty held a hearing last year. Two of the witnesses recanted their identifications.
Moriarty concluded that the court “has no doubt that a jury would not be able to reach a determination that this defendant was guilty, and this court does not believe any reasonable jury could have made such a decision in this case.”
On June 7, 2017, Jones walked free.
Image : Wrongly imprisoned Mr Jones (right) and real criminal Ricky Amos (left)