USA

‘Wrongly’ convicted man freed after 45 years

A US man has been freed from jail after "wrongly" serving nearly 50 years in jail for the rape and kidnap of a nurse.

Wilbert Jones has walked free from prison after a judge overturned his conviction for the crime, which took place in Louisiana in 1971.

He thanked God for his freedom and for his loyal family, who never gave up hope, as he left the prison in Baton Rouge where he had been moved in preparation for his release.

He also hugged his legal team at the Innocence Project New Orleans, the charity that had worked for more than a decade to get him out of jail.

Earlier this week, State District Judge Richard Anderson said the case was "weak at best" and authorities withheld evidence that could have cleared him decades ago.

On Tuesday, when the court heard he would be released, Mr Jones showed no reaction even though many of his relatives were reduced to tears as they hugged each other.

His lawyer, Emily Maw, praised his "extraordinary strength" for spending "over 16,000 days in prison for something he didn't do".

His niece Wajeedah Jones said she expected his first request on being released to be served his favourite food.

"We will have the gumbo ready for him when he gets out," she said.

State prosecutors said they would not be seeking a retrial but would be asking for a review of the judge's decision to release Mr Jones.

Ms Maw said it would be wrong for them to do so.

He was arrested in early 1972 at the age of 19 on suspicion of abducting the nurse from Baton Rouge hospital car park and raping her at gunpoint behind a building on the night of 2 October, 1971.

Mr Jones was convicted of aggravated rape at a 1974 retrial and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The case against Mr Jones relied "entirely" on evidence given by the nurse, who claimed he was the man who attacked her.

The nurse, who died in 2008, picked out Mr Jones from a police line-up more than three months after the rape.

But she also told officers the man who raped her was taller and had a "much rougher" voice than Mr Jones.

He is now 65 years old and said to be a "frail, ageing man", who posed no danger to the community.

The nurse's widower is said not to have opposed his release.

Mr Jones' lawyers said the prosecutor who secured his conviction had a track record of withholding evidence that could assist defendants.

An opinion by a state Supreme Court justice written in 1974 said the prosecutor was responsible for 11 reversed convictions in the preceding year – "an incredible statistic for a single prosecutor," the judge noted.

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