A Louisiana man who was wrongfully convicted of rape more than four decades ago will finally get to walk free on Wednesday.
Wilbert Jones was 19 when he was arrested on suspicion that he kidnapped a nurse at gunpoint and raped her in 1971, The Associated Press reports.
The nurse, who died in 2008, had a “questionable identification” of Jones: She picked him out of a police lineup but also told officers that her assailant was taller and had a “much rougher” voice, according to the AP. Another man who matched the nurse’s description was arrested for the rape of another woman 27 days later, but he was only charged and convicted of armed robbery after attacking a woman in 1973.
[Jones has spent] over 16,000 days in prison for something he didn’t do, and come out with faith in God and humanity. Emily Maw, Innocence Project New Orleans director
Despite the inconsistencies, Jones was convicted of aggravated rape in 1974 and sentenced to life without parole. A judge overturned the conviction on Oct. 31, 15 years after lawyers from the Innocence Project New Orleans took on Jones’ case.
State District Judge Richard Anderson called the case against Jones “weak, at best” and said authorities withheld evidence that could have exonerated him at the time.
Anderson granted the 65-year-old his freedom and set his bail at $2,000.
“Our courts have been willing to go back and recognize injustice from 1972, acknowledge that it happened and try to stop the damage,” Emily Maw, director of Innocence Project New Orleans, told The Advocate. “[Jones has spent] over 16,000 days in prison for something he didn’t do, and come out with faith in God and humanity.”
Jones, who spent the most recent portion of his sentence at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, plans to live with his brother and sister-in-law. A Razoo page has been set up with a goal of raising $45,000 to help Jones transition back into society and rebuild his life.
“It is a clear injustice, a real tragedy,” Maw told local news outlet WAFB. “While we are thrilled for the Jones family that they will be reunited, there is a heaviness to somebody having lost 45 and a half years.”