Man imprisoned for 17 years now freed after lookalike mix-up: 'I made it through'

Richard Jones, 41, was released on June 8.

ByABC News
June 12, 2017, 5:22 PM

— -- A man who spent 17 years behind bars for a crime he has always said he didn't commit is now free after a case of mistaken identity.

The conviction of Richard Jones, 41, has been overturned after the Midwest Innocence Project and the University of Kansas School of Law helped uncover what is now believed to be a wrongful conviction due to eyewitness misidentification.

"I hope and prayed every day for this day to come, and when it finally got here it was an overwhelming feeling," Jones said in an interview with ABC News' "Good Morning America."

Jones was charged with aggravated robbery in Kansas City, Kansas, nearly 20 years ago after being accused of trying to steal a purse in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Roeland Park, Kansas. Jones had an alibi and no physical evidence, DNA or fingerprints ever linked him to the crime -- only two eyewitness identifications.

At the time, the witnesses told police that the suspect was either a light-skinned Hispanic or African-American man. Jones' photo was picked out of six mug shots by Tamara Scherer, the victim of the robbery, and Ronald Cohen, a security guard at the Walmart at the time of the robbery, according to a memorandum provided to ABC News by Alice Craig, Jones' attorney and professor at University of Kansas' Project for Innocence.

Those eyewitness testimonies ultimately landed him behind bars at the Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas.

The Kansas City Police and the Kansas Department of Corrections have not yet responded to ABC News' request for comment.

According to Jones' profile on the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System, he was released as of June 8 in Johnson County.

Jones, who adamantly maintained his innocence since his arrest 17 years ago, had tried unsuccessfully for 15 years to appeal his conviction, until he teamed up with the Midwest Innocence Project and the Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas School of Law. Jones said he told his attorneys that he had heard there was another man in incarceration who looked just like him.

Interns for the project found photos of another inmate in the Kansas state system named Ricky Amos, 39. The two men were close in age, had similar skin tone, the same facial hair and cornrows.

"Once I had seen his picture beside mine and I seen the resemblance me and him had, I just knew," Jones said. "It was understandable why other people would say the same thing."

Last week, a judge ordered Jones' release after witnesses, including the robbery victim, admitted they couldn't tell the Jones and Amos apart.

At his exoneration hearing, Jones saw his doppelganger for the first time. Amos has denied any involvement in the crime.

"It was hard," Jones said. "I won't say it was easy because it wasn't, but I made it through."

John Cowles, the original prosecutor on the case who is now a criminal defense attorney, said that Jones' conviction was based "solely on eyewitness identification."

Jones' alibi placed him at his girlfriend Tia Kidd's house in Kansas City, Missouri, on the day of the crime. Tia Kidd and her sister, Lisa Kidd, testified on Jones' behalf but he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 19 years. Jones' sentence included time for four prior unrelated offenses on his record.

Cowles signed an affidavit after he said he was presented by The Innocence Project with the new evidence of the case where it involved Amos and the misidentification of Jones.

"I realized that we had very unfortunately convicted the wrong man," Cowles told ABC News. "We spoke at the hearing and he was appreciative and I wished him luck."

Amos was not incarcerated at the time the original crime took place, according to the Kansas Criminal Justice Information System. Because of the statute of limitations, Amos will not be charged for the 1999 robbery that Jones served time for, Cowles said.

Alice Craig, Jones' attorney, said Kansas does not have a compensation statute -- meaning there is no law allowing compensation for people of wrongful imprisonment. There is no word if Jones will file a lawsuit against the state, she added.

Jones said he is enjoying his family, keeping his faith in God and wants to work with The Innocence Project to give freedom to others who are wrongfully convicted.