Bill to prevent wrongful convictions based on flawed eyewitness testimony signed into law

Bill to prevent wrongful convictions based on flawed eyewitness testimony signed into law
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Wilbert Jones is living his best life two years after he was officially exonerated for a 1971 crime he did not commit.

“I got to live one day at a time, you know, and live day by day,” said Jones.

New La. law allows experts to show eyewitness testimony can be wrong

The 66 year old has gotten a job, cast his ballot in an election, and more importantly, found a wife within two years of finding his freedom. He and his wife, Mary Jane Jones, got married March 16.

Jones was released in 2017 and his name was later cleared after spending nearly 50 years behind bars, wrongfully convicted in a decades old rape case. Now a free man, he’s catching up on everything he missed out on.

“When I was young, I didn’t get a chance to experience these things, but I didn’t know how sweet it was. It’s so sweet,” said Jones.

Things just got a little sweeter for those like him who may have been put away because of a possible flaw in the legal system. Governor John Bel Edwards has now signed off on a new law that allows experts to testify in court, adding clarity to eyewitness accounts in order to prevent wrongful convictions.

(Source: WAFB)

Representative Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans, sponsored the bill and calls it an opportunity to right wrongs.

“We’re talking about individuals who have been taken away from their families. We’re talking about children who don’t have their fathers or their mothers,” said Harris. “You cannot give a person those years back, but what we can do is to try and prevent this moving forward and that’s what this legislation is attempting to address.”

Kia Hayes, attorney with the Innocence Project New Orleans, says it’s a very rewarding chance to restore what was taken from so many and to prevent others from falling into a similar situation.

"Louisiana is no longer an outlier in this regard," said Hayes.

Hayes says research has shown eyewitness accounts can sometimes be flawed, which makes the information an expert can provide crucial.

"An expert is able to explain to the jury some of these things and they can use that information to better evaluate and show that it's possible that a witness was incorrect," Hayes added.

It’s a vital tool they hope can prevent another wrongful conviction or another case like the one involving Wilbert Jones.

“They didn’t give up on me and I didn’t give up on me,” said Jones. “I thank God that he made it all possible because with him, all things are possible.”

Louisiana joins 48 other states who already have similar laws on the books.

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