A man has been released from prison after 17 years when witnesses admitted they could not tell him apart from a lookalike.
Richard Anthony Jones, from Kansas City in Missouri, was convicted of aggravated robbery in 1999, based largely on eyewitness evidence.
But two witnesses – and even the alleged robbery victim – have now testified that they could not distinguish him from a local man known only as “Ricky”.
Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty ordered Jones's release on Thursday, reported the Kansas City Star.
Mr Jones, who had unsuccessfully tried to appeal his case numerous times, learned of the existence of his look-alike from fellow inmates.
He brought the information to workers at the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul E Wilson Defender Project, who helped file an appeal in his case.
Lawyers quickly discovered that Ricky lived close to the Walmart at which the robbery allegedly occurred.
At Mr Jones’ appeal hearing, they presented presented the plaintiff, two witnesses and the prosecutor in his case with photos of the two look-alikes. All four said they could not tell the two apart.
Judge Moriarty did not go as far as convicting his lookalike of the crime, but conceded that no reasonable juror would have convicted Mr Jones.
Mr Jones only became the focus of the police investigation after one man – who was admittedly on drugs during his only interaction with the suspect – picked a picture of him out of a police database, according to the defence. There was no DNA or physical evidence presented in the case.
Mr Jones, who maintained his innocence throughout his nearly two-decade sentence – said finding his doppelganger was like finding a “needle in a haystack".
“We were floored by how much they looked alike,” his attorney, Alice Craig, added.
Mr Jones told the Kansas City Star he will return home to his wife and children. The stat of Kansas, however, does not offer compensation or services for the wrongfully convicted.
An intern from the KU Law Project for innocence has started a fundraising page to help Mr Jones' get back on his feet.
"It will be a process for him to reintegrate and find stable housing and work with a 17-year gap on his resume," Midwest Innocence Project Director Tricia Bushnell told The Independent. "We are working with him and other community groups to make sure he is successful."
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