KANSAS CITY, Mo. – During this season of Thanksgiving, one metro native is thankful for his freedom.
It's the first major holiday since Richard Jones walked out of a prison cell, cleared after being convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Now, he’s working to assist other inmates he says are also innocent.
In prison, Thanksgiving Day is just another day, according to 41-year old Jones, who was only 25 when his incarceration began. Jones is a free man now, having been released from Lansing Correctional Facility in June. He served 17 years of a 19-year prison sentence, having been wrongfully convicted of aggravated robbery.
Jones’ prison stay came after a Johnson County, Kansas judge found him guilty of a 1999 robbery. Eyewitnesses confused Jones photo with that of another suspect, who looked a lot like Jones does. Both men even had the same first name, but the county had no physical evidence against Jones. A jury sent him to prison just the same.
“To be out here and come and go as I please, and be around family member and friends, it's a beautiful feeling to go. In there, you can't go,” Jones told FOX 4 News from his east Kansas City living room.
Jones says his work is just beginning. He, along with the help of the Midwest Innocence Project, plan to work with Kansas legislators to arrange for wrongly-convicted inmates to receive compensation upon their release. Missouri already has a program like that.
“I know I have other people in there for crimes they didn't commit, and they're missing their thanksgiving and their Christmas. Some guys will probably never see a Christmas or Thanksgiving again because they've had that much time,” Jones said.
“It is wonderful to have him home,” Tia Kidd, Jones’ girlfriend, said on Thursday morning.
Kidd says she's known Richard Jones for more than 20 years. She and Jones say the legal system must be held responsible when it sends innocent people to prison.They complain that those who’ve wrongfully convicted innocent defendants in the past have walked away without being punished, and as those inmates are sent away, they’ve received nothing for years that are lost.
“It can possibly set many others free. It could change the system to where it has to be proven,” Jones said. “These eyewitness testimony things are not to be relied upon. This is a known fact, and yet, the courts still rely upon them.”
Jones says the proposed legislation he’s working on with the Midwest Innocence Project may not yield a dollar for him, but it could help others who are wrongfully behind bars. If that happens, he'll be truly thankful.
Jones had two years remaining on his prison sentence when he was released. He says the proposed legislation is still in the early stages.