Richard Jones, who spent nearly 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, is getting $1.1 million from the state of Kansas. It’s the first payment made under the state’s new mistaken-conviction statute.
The payment resolves a lawsuit filed by Jones after his conviction was thrown out and the charges against him were dismissed last year.
“We are committed to faithfully administering the new mistaken-conviction statute the legislature enacted,” Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a statement. “In this case, it was possible on the existing record to resolve all issues quickly, satisfy all of the statute’s requirements, and agree to this outcome so Mr. Jones can receive the benefits to which he is entitled by law because he was mistakenly convicted.”
Under the mistaken-conviction law, exonerated prisoners are eligible for $65,000 for each year spent in prison on a false conviction. They get another $25,000 for each year serving parole or listed on the registry for sex offenders.
The law also gives wrongfully imprisoned people access to health care, education and housing assistance, as well as a certificate of innocence.
Jones’ conviction was based entirely on eyewitness identification, which is notoriously unreliable. He was picked out of a photo lineup three months after an attempted purse snatching on May 31, 1999, at the Walmart parking lot in Roeland Park. The thief only managed to grab the victim’s cellphone.
Jones bore a striking resemblance to another man, whom Jones’ lawyers later proved was almost certainly the perpetrator.
Tamara Scherer, the victim of the robbery, testified at Jones’ trial that Jones was the perpetrator. But she later signed a sworn affidavit stating that if she were presented with photographs of Jones and the other man, she probably would not have been able to tell the difference.
Jones was arrested more than five months after the incident and charged with aggravated robbery. He was found guilty at trial and sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison. The Kansas Court of Appeals later denied his appeal.
Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty ordered Jones’ release after students and faculty working on a post-conviction project at the University of Kansas Law School, which had taken up his case, presented evidence showing he was wrongly identified in the lineup. The Kansas City-based Midwest Innocence Project also assisted in the case.
Jones was the subject of an hour-long radio program on WBEZ, the public radio station in Chicago, earlier this year. Part of the program was recorded at KCUR, where Jones and Scherer met for the first time after his trial. In the emotional encounter, the two spoke about how the case had shaped their lives. Scherer asked Jones to forgive her. He did.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.