Man to be freed 50 years after ‘weak’ rape case
BATON ROUGE, LA. – A Louisiana man who has spent nearly 50 years in prison is expected to be released Wednesday, about two weeks after a judge overturned his conviction in the kidnapping and rape of a nurse.
Wilbert Jones didn’t show any visible reaction when State District Judge Richard Anderson set his bail Tuesday at $2,000. The judge previously said the case against Jones was “weak, at best” and that authorities withheld evidence that could have exonerated Jones decades ago.
Jones’ family members embraced one another and fought back tears outside the courtroom. His niece Wajeedah Jones said she already knew what her uncle’s first request would be.
“We will have the gumbo ready for him when he gets out,” she said.
Prosecutors said they will ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the judge’s decision, but they do not intend to retry Jones.
Jones, now 65, was 19 when police arrested him on suspicion of abducting a nurse at gunpoint from a Baton Rouge hospital’s parking lot and raping her behind a building on the night of Oct. 2, 1971. Jones was convicted of aggravated rape at a 1974 retrial and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. “The community has changed so much since he was locked up,” said Warden Timothy Hooper, who testified in favor of Jones’ release because he said he was a model inmate.
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.
Jones’ attorneys from Innocence Project New Orleans describe him as a “highly trusted prisoner and a frail, aging man” who doesn’t pose a danger to the community.