Imagine spending 45 years in prison for a crime someone else committed, only to be exonerated on one condition: Pay the state $2,000 in bail money. For Wilbert Jones, that’s exactly the case.
Jones, a 65-year-old Black man from Louisiana, was convicted in 1974 on an aggravated rape charge for kidnapping and raping a Baton Rouge nurse. But Jones was innocent. In fact, Jones could have walked out earlier over the original conviction, which State District Court Judge Richard Anderson called “weak, at best,” except authorities allegedly failed to give the defense evidence that would have exonerated him. Of course, the state’s prosecutors disagree.
“The state was not obligated to document for the defense every rape or abduction that occurred in Baton Rouge from 1971 to 1974,” prosecutors said according to The Root.
Jones was freed in part because his attorneys proved the nurse’s testimony wasn’t correct. The victim, who said her rapist had a “much rougher” voice than Jones’, more accurately described a man who was arrested for abducting and raping another woman from a Baton Rouge hospital shortly after. But by 1974, the nurse’s testimony held up in court, leading to Jones’ false conviction.
Still, after so many years spent in prison, Jones has a $2,000 sum to pay before he’s officially cleared. But the outside world may be able to help cushion the cost. Jones has a fundraiser setup on Razoo, inviting others to help him “start this new chapter [in] his life and begin to rebuild” from his years spent in prison. The fundraiser asks for $45,000, and over $8,000 has already been raised for Jones.
“Mr. Jones will be living with his brother Plem and sister-in-law, and he’s looking forward to enjoying a meal of gumbo to celebrate his freedom,” the fundraiser says.
The Innocence Project New Orleans played a monumental role in Jones’ exoneration, working alongside the falsely convicted prisoner for the past 15 years. And their hard work may be more important than ever in the American justice system. Earlier this year, police falsely held a Black man in jail for 90 days after confusing drywall powder with crack. Black men are much more likely to be imprisoned for drug use than whites, too, pointing to selective prosecution by state governments towards people of color.
Jones isn’t the only Black man suffering because of the American courts. And while his story has an optimistic ending, it’s a reminder that racism from prosecutors can ruin lives.
H/T the Root