Man files $1.1m lawsuit after being wrongfully imprisoned in 'Doppelgänger Case’

Man files $1.1m lawsuit after being wrongfully imprisoned in 'Doppelgänger Case’

In 1999, Richard A. Jones was convicted of aggravated robbery. Police and eyewitnesses believed he was the man who robbed a woman in the parking lot of a Walmart in Roeland Park, Kansas. The thief attempted to steal her purse, then stole her cell phone, hopped in a car with others and drove away. The eyewitness descriptions were vague, describing the thief as a thin, light-skinned black or Hispanic man with dark hair.

Jones told police that on the day of the crime he was at a Memorial Day party with friends and family. He said he never left his house and presented alibi witnesses who testified that he was them. Jones was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 19 years in prison. At the time, he was 25, and had two young daughters. Prosecutors based their case solely on eyewitness identifications; no DNA, fingerprints or physical evidence linked him to the crime.

While serving his time at Lansing Correctional Facility, Jones maintained his innocence. However, he lost all of his appeals to overturn the conviction. Bitter and confused, he sat behind bars, the years passing him by. Then one day everything changed. Inmates said he looked just like another prisoner at the facility, Ricky Amos. That's right, his doppelgänger even had the same first name.

Prisoner Richard A. Jones and his doppleganger, Ricky Amos Richard A. Jones, left. Ricky Amos, right. Credit: Kansas Department of Corrections

When you line their mugshots side by side, the resemblance is uncanny. The two share the same braided hairstyle, the same goatees, the same eyes, eyebrows and complexion. "We were just like, holy crap," said Jones’s attorney, Alice Craig, speaking to the Washington Post. Her team discovered that in 1999, Amos lived near the scene of the robbery. Meanwhile, Jones lived across the state line in Kansas City.

The case quickly unraveled, nearly two decades after Jones' conviction. Here's what actually happened on May 31, 1999, as reported by WaPo and The New York Times: Three men spent Memorial Day driving around Kansas City, smoking crack-cocaine. When they ran out, they drove to another neighborhood to get more. A man named Rick, whom they barely knew, joined them in and said to drive to Walmart. Ricky Amos stole the woman's phone and hopped in the getaway car, and Richard A. Jones got pinned for the crime.

The case was reopened, and the eyewitnesses were called back to court. After viewing photographs of the two men side by side, they testified they could no longer say Jones was the robber; and had they been shown those two photographs in 1999, they never would have erroneously chose him. The judge threw out the conviction and ordered Jones’ release from prison.

Wrongfully imprisoned man and his doppleganger Richard A. Jones, left. Ricky Amos, right. Credit: Kansas Department of Corrections

Today Jones is 42. His daughters are 24 and 19. And he is a grandfather. "It took a big chunk of my life that I can never get back," said Jones in an interview. "It was a hard pill to swallow. ... At that time I was pretty much trying to be responsible as a father. I was not perfect, but I was a big part of their lives, and when I got incarcerated it was hard for me because I was used to being around for my kids. ... I am just trying to get stable in my everyday life. I am still transitioning."

On Wednesday, Jones filed a petition with the 10th Judicial District Court of Kansas, seeking about $65,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, as well the cost of attorney's fees and costs. That adds up to $1.1 million in compensation from the state, although no amount of money can truly make up for such a painful loss of time. Jones is also seeking help with tuition, housing assistance and counseling, so he can move forward with his life.

“This compensation is relatively small given the unfathomable hardship of 17 years of wrongful imprisonment,” wrote his laywers in the petition, reported by The Kansas City Star. "It is hard to imagine how Mr. Jones can truly get a fresh start without the assistance sought having lost so many years behind bars when he could have been getting an education, developing his skills, and pursuing and rising within his chosen profession."

The petition is pending. Jones was convicted of robbery, but the judicial system robbed him, stealing 17 years of his life. Jones told ABC he wants to work with The Innocence Project to help give freedom to others who were wrongfully convicted.

Hopefully the 'doppelgänger case' raises awareness about the flaws in convictions based on eyewitness identifications, which are famously unreliable. Especially since, during the lineup, Jones' photograph was the only image out of six to be that of a light-skinned man. What happened to Jones should never happen to anyone again.