Nov. 14 (UPI) -- A Louisiana man who spent the past 45 years in prison will be released after a judge overturned his rape conviction because the prosecution withheld evidence that could have proven his innocence.
Wilbert Jones, 65, was convicted of aggravated rape in 1971 and sentenced to life in prison. The Innocence Project recently took up his case and argued that Jones deserves a new trial "because he was misidentified and that prosecutors originally failed to disclose that they'd linked a different man to strikingly similar crimes in the years leading up to Jones' conviction."
District Judge Richard Anderson agreed with Jones' attorneys and threw out his conviction Oct. 31. On Tuesday, Anderson set a $2,000 bail for Jones, who is expected to walk out of prison a free man Wednesday.
The Advocate reported that Jones' relatives and supporters were waiting at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse during Jones' bail hearing Tuesday.
"He already requested gumbo," Jones' niece, Wajeedah Jones, told the newspaper.
During the bail hearing, Hunt Correctional Center Warden Timothy Hooper testified Jones has been a model prisoner during his nearly half-century of incarceration and fellow inmates see him as a role model. Hooper also said Jones, who has been in prison since the age of 19, has taken re-entry classes to make the transition to life on the outside.
"He's been locked up for 45 years. It's going to be hard for him," Hooper said.
Jones was accused of abducting a nurse from a hospital parking lot and raping her Oct. 2, 1971. A few weeks after that incident, another woman was abducted from a parking lot and raped. Fingerprints belonging to a man named Arnold Ray O'Connor were found in the second case and he fit both victims' description of their attacker. He was arrested on suspicion of rape, but never charged.
Prosecutors never told Jones' defense attorneys about the second abduction and rape incident during his 1971 trial. Two years later, O'Connor was convicted of armed robbery during a home invasion rape that also was near a hospital and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Jones' attorneys questioned O'Connor during Jones' appeal, but he pleaded the Fifth Amendment.
Baton Rouge prosecutors said they cannot retry Jones because the victim died in 2008.