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Robert Jones

Other New Orleans Exonerations
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On January 26, 2017, Robert Jones was exonerated of four separate crimes, including rape, robbery, kidnapping and manslaughter, which had terrified tourists and residents over a two-month period in 1992 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A combination of mistaken witness identifications, perjury and other misconduct by police and prosecutors, and a false accusation by the true criminal led to Jones’s conviction of the four crimes, including the fatal shooting of a British tourist.

All of the attacks occurred in or near the French Quarter, the popular tourist destination. The first occurred on February 13, 1992 when 27-year-old Curtis Boutte said he was robbed at gunpoint.

Then, on April 6, a man approached three women and a man. He pointed a handgun at them and ordered them to walk out of the French Quarter. One of the women was ahead of them and kept walking, but the other three—two women and a man—were commanded to lie in the street and give up their money and jewelry. They complied and then were ordered to get up and walk with the robber.

They walked as couples—one of the women, identified as T.P., with the robber and the other woman, identified as H.T. and man, identified as L.J., side by side in front of him. After a distance, the robber ordered H.T. and L.J. to disrobe and crawl under a car. They obeyed, and the robber then forced T.P. into a burgundy-colored car and drove her to the Desire public housing project where he forced her out of the car and took her into an abandoned building where he raped her.

The attacker then ordered her to go into a crawl space under a building. T.P. found a trash bag containing clothing, dressed, and calmly crept out of the crawl space. She walked past the burgundy car still parked by the building with the attacker sitting inside.

T.P. walked to the apartment of a family friend. Police were called and T.P. went to a hospital where she was examined and evidence for a rape kit was collected.

Eight days later, on April 14, 38-year-old Patrick Van Hoorebeek and 29-year-old Bethany Acosta were robbed at gunpoint as they walked in the French Quarter. Minutes later and around the corner, 27-year-old Julie Stott, a British tourist, and her boyfriend, 27-year-old Peter Ellis, were confronted at gunpoint by a man who ordered them to lie down in the street.

When they were slow to comply, the gunman fired several shots and fled. Stott was killed. A bullet pierced Ellis’s clothing, but he was not injured.

The murder of Stott set off a firestorm of adverse publicity in England. The Sun, a British tabloid, offered a $10,000 reward for information in the case. At the time, Ellis was unable to provide a description of the gunman, but he described the getaway car as burgundy colored. Thomas Van Develde told police he heard the shots and came out to his balcony and saw the silhouette of a man leaving the scene and getting into a burgundy car.

Three days later, on April 17, a tip to Crimestoppers implicated 19-year-old Robert Jones and two of his acquaintances in Stott’s murder. Jones was arrested on April 18 and taken to the police station. At the same time, the detective investigating the rape and robbery of T.P., L.J. and H.T. learned of the tip and assembled a photo lineup with Jones's photograph. T.P., the rape victim, identified him as her attacker. Three days later, T.P. and L.J. identified Jones in a live lineup. H.T. was unable to identify Jones.

None of the reports from any of the crimes mentioned anything about the robber’s teeth. This would become a critical detail since Jones’s teeth were capped in gold. Jones was identified even though the victims' description was of a man in his late 20's or early 20's and Jones was just 19.

On April 20, another couple was robbed at gunpoint in the French Quarter. The couple told police the robber fled in a burgundy car.

On April 22, police spotted a burgundy car that resembled the car that T.P. said her attacker forced her into to drive to the housing project. As they were looking at the car, 30-year-old Lester Jones approached and asked why they were looking at his car. Lester Jones was arrested immediately—he was wearing a Jesus medallion that had been taken during the rape and robbery of T.P., L.J. and H.T. Eyeglasses similar to ones described by the victims were found in the car. In addition, he was wearing a wristwatch that had been stolen from Van Hoorebeek in the robbery that occurred just minutes before Stott was fatally shot. Police also recovered a handgun from him and ballistics quickly linked the gun to Stott's murder.

T.P. positively identified the car as the one in which her attacker drove her to the housing project and raped her. However, when Lester was put in a lineup, T.P., L.J. and H.T. did not identify him. T.P. and L.J. insisted Robert Jones was their attacker. Robert Jones was charged with armed robbery, rape and kidnapping.

Lester Jones confessed to being involved in the murder of Stott. Based on that statement, the ballistics evidence and the identification of the burgundy car seen leaving the scene of Stott’s killing, he was charged with Stott’s murder. Although the Crimestoppers tip implicated Robert Jones in the murder, he was not charged with that crime.

However, in June—after the $10,000 reward had been publicized and Robert Jones’s photograph had appeared in the New Orleans media—Thomas Van Develde changed his statement. Although he initially said he only saw one person leaving the scene of Stott’s murder and in silhouette, Van Develde for the first time identified Lester Jones as the gunman. After reading a news article that said the prosecution for the murder of Stott was "falling apart," Van Develde said that after Stott was shot, Robert Jones came to her body, rifled her pockets for valuables and fled on foot.

As a result, Robert Jones was charged with the attempted robbery of Ellis and Stott, the attempted murder of Ellis, and the murder of Stott. By then, Robert Jones also had been charged with the February robbery of Curtis Boutte, and the robbery of Acosta and Van Hoorebeek, although Acosta and Van Hoorebeek failed to identify either Robert or Lester Jones in live lineups.

In March 1996, Jones went to trial in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on the charges of rape of T.P., and of robbery of T.P., H.T. and L.J. L.J. and T.P. identified Robert Jones as their attacker.

For the first time, T.P. testified that her attacker had gold teeth. The prosecution brought Lester Jones into the courtroom and made him show the jury that he did not have gold teeth.

Detective Herman Cade, who was involved in the Stott murder investigation, was asked by the prosecutor if, through his investigation, he had learned whether Robert Jones and Lester Jones knew each other. Cade said, "Yes," but before he could answer any further questions, the defense objected and no further questions were asked. Based on that response, the prosecution argued to the jury that not only did Robert and Lester Jones knew each other, but that Lester Jones lent his car to Robert Jones and that Robert Jones had given Lester some of the valuables taken in the robbery. Years later, Cade would testify that had he been specifically asked whether the investigation had evidence that Robert and Lester Jones knew each other, he would have said, "No."

The prosecution and the defense presented an agreed statement that the FBI had performed DNA testing and that no DNA profile could be discerned.

Robert Jones and members of his family testified that on the night of the crime, they were at a birthday party for Jones’s son at Jones's mother's house, that Robert was there during the party and then stayed the night there.

The prosecution told the jury in closing argument that Lester Jones could not have been the perpetrator—as the defense contended—because T.P. had identified Robert Jones, not Lester, and that the two men did not look alike at all. In addition, the prosecutor said, “We know that Robert Jones used the car and we know that he knows Lester Jones.” The prosecutor explained that he did not call Lester Jones on that point because he believed that Lester Jones would not testify for the state and against his friend.

On March 12, 1996, the jury convicted Jones of the rape of T.P. and the armed robbery of T.P., H.T., and L.J. Jones was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

By that time, Lester Jones had been convicted of the Stott murder and the robber of another couple that occurred right after the Stott murder and had been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Weeks later, Robert Jones pled guilty to manslaughter for the shooting of Julie Stott. He also pled guilty to the February 1992 robbery of Curtis Boutte, as well as the robbery of Bethany Acosta and Patrick Van Hoorebeek, which occurred minutes before Stott was murdered. He received various prison terms up to 25 years, all of which were to be served concurrently with his life without parole term imposed in the rape and robbery case.

In 2003, having lost his appeals, Robert Jones wrote to Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO) seeking help. In 2004, IPNO began investigating the rape and robbery case. However, a search for evidence to submit for DNA testing was fruitless because authorities said none of the physical evidence in the case could be found. Later that year, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.

In 2006, Robert Jones filed a post-conviction petition seeking a new trial. In an affidavit, Lester Jones said that he told the prosecutor who wanted Lester Jones to testify at Robert Jones's trial that he did not know Robert Jones. Moreover, Lester said that detectives had beaten him until he implicated Robert Jones, but he did not know Jones and had never lent him his car.

In 2007, at a hearing on the motion, Lester Jones testified that he told police that he never lent his car to Robert Jones, never associated with him, and never received from him any of the stolen items linked to the robberies for which Robert was convicted. The motion for new trial was denied and in 2009, the Louisiana Court of Appeals and then the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

In 2010, IPNO filed another post-conviction petition asserting that more evidence that pointed to Robert Jones’s innocence had been discovered in police and prosecution files—evidence that had not been disclosed to Jones at the time of his trial.

This petition was denied as well, but in 2014, the Louisiana Court of Appeal reversed the ruling and granted Robert Jones a new trial on the rape, robbery and kidnapping charges.

The appeals court found that the prosecution and police had failed to disclose at least three important facts.

First, they failed to disclose that T.P.’s original statement after the rape estimated the age of her attacker as late 20s or early 30s—a range that did not fit Robert Jones, but was very accurate for Lester Jones. The court also ruled that the prosecution had failed to disclose a report from the victim during which there was no mention that her attacker had gold teeth, which was accurate for Lester Jones, but not Robert Jones.

Second, the prosecution had failed to disclose that T.P. said that the rapist told her when he was driving her to the public housing project that he was taking her to his “neck of the woods.” That was important, the court noted, because Lester Jones lived a block from where T.P. was forced out of the burgundy-colored car and Robert Jones did not live anywhere near that area.

Lastly, the prosecution had not disclosed that Detective Cade, who was investigating the robberies, had concluded that Lester Jones and Robert Jones did not know each other and that Detective James Stewart, who was investigating the murder of Stott had concluded that Lester Jones was responsible for all of the crimes that Robert Jones had been convicted of and that Robert Jones and Lester Jones had never met. The prosecution also failed to disclose the existence of four other crimes which were linked to Lester Jones by the burgundy car, his possession of items stolen in each robbery, that all were in the same general area and that there was only perpetrator involved in each crime.

In November 2015, Det. Stewart, who by then had become an FBI agent, testified at a pre-trial hearing in the case that he had told the prosecutors in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office that there was no connection between Lester and Robert Jones.

Three months after Stewart reached that conclusion, Thomas Van Develde—the witness who initially said that he heard the shots that killed Stott, came out onto his balcony, and saw the silhouette of a man leaving the scene—changed his story. Van Develde then said he actually saw two people and identified Lester and Robert Jones in a lineup as those two people. Van Develde further elaborated that he saw Robert Jones rifle through Stott’s pockets and leave with Lester Jones.

Three months after the new trial order became final, the prosecution disclosed for the first time a nearly 20-year-old memorandum in the Stott murder case that was written by a prosecutor and had never been disclosed to the defense. In the memorandum, the prosecutor reported that Lester Jones had recanted his police statements entirely.

At that point, the cascade of newly disclosed evidence persuaded Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter to set bail for Robert Jones at $36,000, a far cry from the $2.5 million sought by the prosecution. Jones was released on November 20, 2015—after 23 years in prison.

On January 26, 2017, the day Jones turned 44, at a hearing on a motion by the defense to dismiss the indictment and bar reprosecution the prosecution decided to dismiss all the cases against him.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 2/24/2017
State:Louisiana
County:Orleans
Most Serious Crime:Sexual Assault
Additional Convictions:Manslaughter, Robbery, Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:1992
Convicted:1996
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No