A Louisiana man who had spent nearly half a century in prison has been released after a judge overturned his conviction of kidnapping and raping of a nurse.
The 65-year-old was just 19 at the time of his arrest and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Wilbert Jones was convicted of kidnapping and raping a nurse who was taken from outside a Baton Rouge hospital in October 1971. Jones was sentenced in 1974.
In 2003, The Innocence Project took his case and one of their investigators discovered that a serial rapist had committed a nearly identical crime four weeks after the one he was accused of. That crime had not been shared with Jones's attorneys.
This evidence that the authorities withheld could have exonerated Jones decades ago.
Jones's rape conviction was overturned by State District Judge Richard Anderson, who claimed that Jones's case was "weak at best."
"Nevertheless, the state failed to provide this information to the defense," the judge wrote.
The nurse was the only witness who testified against Jones, and identified him in a lineup. However, she had noticed that he was shorter and had a different voice the the perpetrator. The nurse passed away in 2008.
“The community has changed so much since he was locked up,” said prison warden Timothy Hooper, who testified in favor of Jones’s release because he said he was a model inmate.
Describing Jones as a “highly trusted prisoner and a frail, ageing man," they deemed him not to be a danger to his community.
“He feels that Mr. Jones has been in prison long enough and that he should be able to get out and spend his remaining years with his family,” the lawyers wrote.
“Freedom. After more than 45 years and 10 months. That’s going through my mind,” Jones said, hugging his brother, Plem Jones, outside the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison.
Despite spending the majority of his life in prison for a crime he didn't commit, Jones harbors no grudges.
He declared "God is good," as he was released.
“Most of my life was taken away from me for something I didn’t do,” Jones said, according to CBS News. “I feel wonderful and I thank God for this opportunity. And I thank God for this legal team.”
Now Jones has some important plans for his release.
“Some gumbo and some good potato salad and some good dessert,” he said. “Enjoy my little life I have left and speak to young kids and tell them to go the right way and not this way.”
"We will have the gumbo ready for him when he gets out,” his niece, Wajeedah Jones said.
“I forgave. I forgive,” he told reporters. “I didn’t have control of it. Why should I worry about it? I’m in charge of myself.”