The New Orleans District Attorney has reached a $2 million settlement in the case of a wrongfully convicted man.
Robert Jones, now 48, spent 23 years behind bars at the notorious Angola prison for rape and murder. He was released in November 2015 following an appeals court decision that critical evidence had been withheld by prosecutors in his trial. In 2017, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office stated they would not seek a retrial. The following year, Jones filed a lawsuit for wrongful conviction.
Jones will receive annual payments of $342,000 for the next six years. The settlement goes beyond monetary compensation. Jones wanted the settlement to include reforms so that others would not go through what he did.
French Quarter Crimes
Jones was convicted of kidnapping, rape, and other charges in 1992 after an arrest for a series of crimes in the city’s French Quarter. He also pleaded guilty to robbery and manslaughter charges on the day he was scheduled for life in prison sentencing. He now says he pleaded guilty because he was “young, scared and despondent” from his loss at his trial.
He has always maintained that he was innocent of all charges.
While in prison, Jones met a fellow inmate who was a boxing instructor. The man told him that life is like boxing, and when it throws you a blow, you must hit back.
Jones was determined to hit back and gain freedom. Although his appeals and pleas for post-conviction relief were denied over and over through the years, he did not give up. It took nearly a quarter-century but finally came to fruition.
Help From the Innocence Project
He later fought his conviction with help from the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), an organization dedicated to freeing innocent people sentenced to life in prison. His lawyers discovered that police had another suspect in the French Quarter crimes. Prosecutors failed to turn over evidence to the defense, as required by law, that the police were pursuing this investigation.
A former New Orleans Police Department homicide detective said Jones was suspected in the case because of a “bad Crimestoppers tip,” as a well a mistaken eyewitness identification.
A New Civil Rights Division
Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams, who negotiated the settlement, used Jones’ case to explain why there was a compelling need for a District Attorney’s Office Civil Rights Division. This division would not only prosecute new crimes but also reverse past wrongful convictions. Jones’ attorney, formerly of the IPNO, now heads this newly created division.
The reforms Jones asked for include adoption of a written policy by the DA’s office for disclosure of favorable evidence to the defense. The DA’s office agreed not to oppose appeals in which there is the likelihood that withheld evidence causes an invalid conviction.
Since his release, Jones has worked with the Orleans Public Defenders as the director of community outreach. His job involves counseling young defendants. Jones works out of the same courthouse in which he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
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