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Man walks free after 1972 rape conviction overturned

Wilbert Jones, now 65, from Louisiana, released after spending nearly 50 years in jail.

Wilbert Jones hugs friends and family as he walks free after nearly 50 years in jail.
Wilbert Jones hugs friends and family as he walks free after nearly 50 years in jail. AP

A prisoner who spent nearly 50 years in prison was freed today after a judge overturned his conviction for the kidnapping and rape of a nurse.

The judge described the case against Wilbert Jones, who was arrested in 1972, as "weak at best", accusing authorities of withholding evidence that would have exonerated Mr Jones decades ago.

Mr Jones, now 65, thanked God for his freedom, and his loyal family for never giving up hope.

Mr Jones' lawyer, Emily Maw, praised "the extraordinary strength" of a man "who has spent over 16,000 days in prison for something he didn't do," and would nevertheless "come out with a faith in God and in humanity."

The then 19-year-old Mr Jones was arrested on suspicion of abducting a nurse at gunpoint in a hospital car park in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

He was convicted of aggravated rape at a 1974 retrial and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Wilbert Jones in 1999.
Wilbert Jones in 1999. AP

The state's case against Mr Jones "rested entirely" on the nurse's testimony and her "questionable identification" of Mr Jones as her assailant, State District Judge Richard Anderson said.

The nurse, who died in 2008, picked Mr Jones out of a police lineup more than three months after the rape. But she also told police that the man who raped her was taller and had a "much rougher" voice than Jones had.

Mr Jones' lawyers claim the nurse's description matches a man who was arrested but never charged in the rape of a woman abducted from another hospital car park, 27 days after the nurse's attack. The same man also was arrested on suspicion of raping another woman in 1973, but was only charged and convicted of armed robbery.

Mr Jones' attorneys from Innocence Project New Orleans describe him as a "highly trusted prisoner and a frail, aging man" who doesn't pose a danger to the community. The late nurse's husband isn't opposed to his release, they wrote in a court filing.

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