Wilbert Jones, of Louisiana, has been in prison for close to 50 years. In 1971, when he was 19, Jones was accused of abducting a nurse at gunpoint from a Baton Rouge hospital and raping her. In a 1974 retrial, he was convicted of aggravated rape and sentenced to life in prison with no parole.
Today, at the age of 65, Jones will be freed. State District Court Judge Richard Anderson declared that the case against Jones was “weak, at best” and that the powers that be withheld evidence that would have exonerated him decades ago. Anderson set Jones’ bail at $2,000.
CBS News details how Jones ended up in this predicament:
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.
According to Anderson, there was evidence that the police knew of the similarities of the man in question and the man the nurse described. He wrote, “Nevertheless, the state failed to provide this information to the defense.”
Prosecutors deny that any evidence was withheld concerning other rapists. “The state was not obligated to document for the defense every rape or abduction that occurred in Baton Rouge from 1971 to 1974,” they wrote in February.
However, Jones’ attorneys with the Innocence Project New Orleans accuse the prosector that did him in had a track record of withholding evidence that favored defendants. In a 1974 opinion by a state Supreme Court justice said that the prosecutor was responsible for 11 reversed convictions over the preceding year. He wrote that this was “an incredible statistic for a single prosecutor.”
Nevertheless, Jones family is getting ready for his return. They know just what he’ll want when he comes home. “We will have the gumbo ready for him when he gets out,” said his niece Wajeedah Jones.