Legally Weird - The FindLaw Legal Curiosities Blog

Innocent Lookalike Freed After 17 Years in Prison

The criminal justice system is far from perfect. Sometimes mistakes get made due to accidents caused by flaws in the system. Fortunately for Richard Jones, the miscarriage of justice he suffered has been corrected; unfortunately, it took nearly 20 years to happen.

Thanks to the Innocence Project and another criminal's lack of luck, Ricky Amos, Mr. Jones was confronted one day, while in custody, by a friend who claimed Mr. Jones snubbed him in the cafeteria. When Mr. Jones denied that accusation stating he wasn't in the cafeteria, the truth was discovered: Mr. Jones and Ricky Amos looked almost identical.

How Does a Mix-Up Like This Happen?

The mix up between Richard Jones and Ricky Amos appears to be the result of accident and police procedures that are stacked against prior offenders. Even Mr. Jones recognized the perfect storm for this disaster was present.

A woman had her cell phone stolen, in a Walmart parking lot, during an attempt to steal her purse. During the incident, the assailant's name, Rick, was learned. Then, Mr. Jones, who had prior arrests, was identified in the system by officers and witnesses due to his strikingly similar appearance.

The fact that his name was Richard and the assailant's name was Rick seemed to really seal the deal too. The witnesses were never shown photos of Ricky Amos, and thus, were misled into identifying Richard Jones. As luck would have it, Amos was arrested on an unrelated charge, and placed in the same prison as Richard, where Richard was able to discover his double.

Eyewitnesses Recant

After the discovery of the lookalike, Mr. Jones, who for the last 17 years maintained his innocence and fought to be released, had his case championed by a local law school's Innocence Project. The appeal provided evidence showing that the eyewitnesses recanted their testimony after being shown the photos of the two men, then being asked if they could tell them apart. The two eyewitnesses had provided the only evidence linking Mr. Jones to the crime.

This new evidence that witnesses could no longer positively identify Mr. Jones as the suspect they saw, coupled with the previous alibi that Mr. Jones had, which was actually rather strong, persuaded a court to order his release.

What Happens Next?

Generally, after a wrongful conviction is overturned, the victim can file for compensation from the state. In states that do not have compensation funds set up to cover these sorts incidents, the victim can file a civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for the time they were wrongfully incarcerated.

As for the real criminal, at this stage, the crime is too old to prosecute as the statute of limitations has passed. Whether Amos actually committed this crime may never be found out as he denies the allegations.

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