A Missouri man is free after serving 17 years in prison in what officials think was a case of mistaken identity.
Richard Jones, 41, was exonerated and released on June 8 after serving a majority of his 19-year sentence for aggravated robbery in Kansas City. Jones learned that a man who may have been the true culprit was in the same prison — and realized the man looks just like him, ABC News reports.
“I hope and prayed every day for this day to come,” Jones told ABC. “When it finally got here, it was an overwhelming feeling.”
Jones was just 24 years old when he was convicted of trying to steal a woman’s purse in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Roeland Park, the ABC reports. He was given the lengthy sentence despite having an alibi and despite the fact that no fingerprints or DNA evidence ever linked him to the crime.
His conviction was based on two flawed eyewitness accounts, according to the Washington Post. The victim described her attacker as a thin, light-skinned man black or Hispanic man with dark hair and a police photo lineup showed Jones alongside five dark-skinned, black men.
After more than a decade of failed appeals, Jones learned that a man named Ricky Amos was also an inmate at the Lansing Correctional Facility. Jones then told staff at the Midwest Innocence Project and the University of Kansas School of Law that he was often mistaken for the man he’d never met.
“It made a lot of things understandable for me concerning this whole case,” Jones told ABC. “I just looked at how much me and this man looked alike and it was unbelievable.”
Like Jones, Amos is light-skinned with dark cornrows. The two also have similar facial hair and features.
“I believe it was a striking resemblance,” Jones added. “It just blew me away.”
ABC reports that a judge ordered Jones’ release last week after witnesses, including the robbery victim, said they couldn’t tell Jones and Amos. The judge ruled that, based on the new evidence, no reasonable juror would have convicted Jones.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Although Amos has denied any involvement in the robbery, an investigation showed that Amos lived near where the suspect in the robbery was picked up the day of the crime, the Kansas City Star reports.
Amos was never charged or found guilty because the statute of limitation for the crime has passed.
Still, Jones is happy to be a free man.
“I couldn’t let someone’s mistake make me waiver in my faith and ever make me shy away from what was real and what the truth was, and that was I was innocent and I knew it,” he told ABC.
When he was released, Jones hugged and thanked the officials who helped in his case, and he was shown in photos embracing his 2-year-old granddaughter.