To most of us, serving time for a crime you didn’t commit sounds like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster. Sadly, it is a reality for some who are wrongly incarcerated. A report published by the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of the University of Michigan Law School, found that 149 people in the US were cleared for crimes they didn’t commit in 2015. Ten years before this, the figure was 61 – showing a staggering rise in exonerations between 2005 and 2015.
In 1999, two men picked up a man named ‘Rick’ at a house in Kansas City, Kansas and this marked the beginning of an unfortunate miscarriage of justice. The men drove to Walmart to get money for drugs but once they parked, ‘Rick’ suddenly attacked a nearby woman in an attempt to steal her purse and grabbed her phone.
All witnesses, including the driver of the vehicle, described ‘Rick’ as a Hispanic or light-skinned African American man. Based on this description, and the following mugshots, Richard Johnson was arrested.
Richard Jones from Kansas City, Missouri, however maintained that he had little connection with the Kansas side of Kansas City. He did not go by the nickname ‘Rick’ and two people testified providing him with an alibi for the time of the attack. His lawyers also stated that he was with his girlfriend and her family at the time of the robbery.
Still, despite the lack of DNA and forensic evidence, Richard Jones was convicted of robbery and sent to prison. However, in an unbelievable turn of events, Richard’s lookalike – who happens to go by the name ‘Rick’ – has now been identified, thus casting doubt on Richard’s guilt.
The road to finding ‘Rick’ began in 2015 when Richard told researchers from the Midwest Innocence Project – a group that aids wrongly convicted prisoners – about a man called Ricky he had heard about.
Mr Jones had been told by fellow inmates that he looked identical to Ricky. When photographs of Richard and Rick were placed side by side, witnesses could not tell the difference. As a result, a judge overturned Richard’s conviction after he had served 17 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Before he was set free, Richard had lost all hope as he had exhausted his appeals. He described the discovery of his doppelgänger as a “needle in a haystack moment” but insists this came down to more than luck. Speaking to a local Kansas media outlet, he said: “I don’t believe in luck, I believe I was blessed.”
The inability of witnesses to differentiate between the two men was enough to show that the evidence against Richard was insufficient, and the investigation into the robbery was described as flawed. In addition to this, Ricky lived closer to the scene of the crime in Kansas City, Kansas while Richard lived across the state line in Missouri.
Ricky has, however, denied committing the crime and has not been found guilty in Richard’s stead. Richard Jones is now adjusting to life outside of jail and is happy to be back with his children. A Gofundme appeal has been set up to raise money for him to rejoin society. So far, $6,690 out of a target of $10,000 has been raised.
It is unlikely that any amount of money can make up for the years Richard has lost in this gross miscarriage of justice. Nevertheless, the support he has received since his release will go along way to helping him restart his life and reconnect with the loved ones he missed for 17 years.