BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Louisiana man who has spent nearly 50 years in prison was freed Wednesday after a judge overturned his conviction in the kidnapping and rape of a nurse.
Walking out of the prison gate, Wilbert Jones embraced his family as a free man. "With God, all things are possible," he said.
State District Court Judge Richard Anderson set Jones' bond at $2,000 after hearing arguments from defense attorneys and prosecutors in a Baton Rouge courtroom.
Jones, now 65, was 19 when police arrested him on suspicion of raping the nurse in 1971. He was convicted in 1974 and spent more than 45 years behind bars. "Most of my life was took away from him for something I didn't do," he said.
In 2003, the Innocence Project New Orleans took on his case. After several motions and court hearings, his attorneys successfully argued that when the case first went to trial, prosecutors at the time left out evidence that could have indicated another suspect.
The victim in the case died in 2008.
After hearing their arguments and the prosecution's objections, Judge Anderson ruled authorities concealed "highly favorable" evidence that the crime was committed by another man linked to two similar attacks. Anderson threw out Jones' conviction on October 31.
"It has been an extraordinary, extraordinary journey for Wilbert," said Emily Maw, director of Innocence Project New Orleans. Maw served as Jones' attorney. "It is not too late for our government to be responsive to him, and they have showed that it is not too late for courts to go back and see that this was a mistake."
During the proceedings, Jones was described as a model prisoner, "pleasant and respectful and genuine."
"It is a clear injustice, a real tragedy," said Maw. "While we are thrilled for the Jones family that they will be reunited, there is a heaviness to somebody having lost 45 and a half years."
The District Attorney's office is appealing the decision and asking the Louisiana Supreme Court to weigh in. "We think that the court has committed error in the ruling that he did and we respectfully disagree with that decision and we ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to look at that decision," said District Attorney Hillar Moore.
Moore added if the Supreme Court confirms the judge's decision, it's unlikely his office will try to re-prosecute Jones. He says with the victim dead, there's little evidence in the case remaining.
Meanwhile, Anderson agreed to set a bond so Jones can await the Supreme Court's decision at home with his family. They waited for him at the prison gate, eager to welcome him home. "It wasn't but a matter of time. I knew he was going to be free one day," said Plem Jones, his brother.
Jones says he wants to travel and make the most of what few years he has left, but before any of that, there is an important matter to attend to. His niece stayed up late last night putting together one of his favorite meals: gumbo.
"I thank God for my family, I thank God for my legal team, I thank God for God," Jones said.