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La. Supreme Court clears way to compensate wrongly convicted man who spent decades in prison

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BATON ROUGE - The Louisiana Supreme Court has affirmed an appeals court ruling, bringing a man sent to prison for life one step closer to compensation

Wilbert Jones spent 46 years in prison following his conviction on a 1971 rape charge, which led to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He was tried for the rape of a Baton Rouge nurse.

But information in recent years suggested that Jones may not have been the assailant. That, and concerns about the way the case was handled years ago, helped free Jones in 2017 -- on bail, at first.

"Most of my life was taken away from me for something I didn't do," he told reporters as he left confinement. 

He was exonerated in 2018, and since then, he has sought compensation from the State.

"His conviction was not reversed on a technical legal issue," The Innocence Project said at the time. "Judge Anderson threw out his conviction and insured his freedom because law enforcement did not disclose the known serial rapist with an identical MO who matched the description and committed what Judge Anderson described as a ‘mirror image crime’ just weeks later.”

But while Jones won his freedom, the battle for compensation dragged on.

A trial court found that Jones failed to prove that he was "factually innocent by clear and convincing evidence," but the plaintiff won a reversal of that order on appeal.

Now, the Louisiana High Court has affirmed the appeals court ruling, though one Justice dissented.

The Supreme Court determined that the victim's shaky identification of her assailant accounted for the "entirety" of the prosecution's case.

"Notably... there was no forensic or physical evidence linking Mr. Jones to the rape," the Court found.

It said there was "no error in the court of appeal's determination that Mr. Jones did not commit the rape."

The High Court heard the case last month, with the Louisiana Attorney General opposing Jones in the matter. The ruling was published on Friday.

Read the La. Supreme Court ruling

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