In 1992 Robert Jones was sentenced to life in prison after being accused of a crime spree involving robbery, rape, and the manslaughter of tourist Julie Slott. There was only one slight problem, another man had also been picked up for the crime.
After the wave of terror tore through the streets of the infamous French Quarter of New Orleans, a tip led police to Robert Jones. Jones was taken in for questioning and one of his alleged victims pointed him out of a lineup. The case was taken to trial where a jury found Jones guilty. They had no idea that another man had already been convicted of the murder of Julie Slott.
Many believed that the case had been a miscarriage of justice. Key evidence supporting Jones’ defense was deliberately left out of the trial. Jones had spent 23 years of his life behind bars for the crime spree he didn’t commit, but that would all change on his 44th birthday.
With the help of the Innocence Project, Jones was allowed to take his case back to trial. There, Jones’ defense was able to provide sufficient evidence to support that not only had the prosecution in Jones’ original trial been extremely negligent by leaving out key pieces of evidence supporting Jones’ innocence, but that there had been overwhelming evidence to support that the other man jailed for Slott’s murder had been behind the crime wave.
Upon hearing the news of his exoneration Jones stated before the judge, “Today is not only my birthday, but today is a day of justice.”
It was an exoneration that did not come easy. After hearing that “every scrap” of physical evidence that could possibly prove Jones’ innocence through DNA had been lost, the case relied heavily on the testimony of arresting officers and other witnesses at the scene. James Stewart, the former NOPD detective who originally arrested Jones, would later become the man primarily responsible for his release.
In 2015, Stewart, a former FBI agent and current chief of the Hammond Police Department, testified before the judge that he had told prosecutors at the original trial that he had arrested the wrong man. This testimony allowed Jones to walk free on bond. It would be another two years before Jones would be cleared on all charges.
In a statement from Jones’ attorney Emily Maw, originally published in The Times-Picayune, “It is devastating that it took the DA’s office so long to actually look into the case and review it to the point that they understood the right result was to drop all charges,” Maw told reporters, “This could have happened 10 years ago … But no one took his pleas seriously, and no one reviewed the evidence.”
Jones is just one of the many wrongfully convicted men and women who have been cleared through the efforts of the Innocence Project. According to their website, since the organization was founded in 1992, they have cleared the name of 349 people through DNA and have put 149 real perpetrators behind bars.