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Richard Jones

Other Robbery Exonerations with Mistaken Witness ID
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At about 8 p.m. on May 31, 1999, 28-year-old Tamara Scherer was walking in a Wal-Mart store parking lot in Roeland Park, Kansas, when a man came up behind her and attempted to steal her purse. Scherer fought back, and her assailant ultimately fled after picking up her mobile telephone, which had dropped to the ground during the struggle. The man got into a waiting car, which sped away.

Scherer told police that she did not see the man’s face and that she would not be able to identify him. Ronald Coen, a Wal-Mart security guard, told police that he saw the car in the lot several times during that afternoon and that he saw the purse snatching. Ron Wolters, a Wal-Mart customer, saw the incident while inside his car in the lot and followed the getaway car long enough to get a license plate number.

Scherer said the man was Hispanic or tan-skinned, had a thin to medium build and dark hair pulled back from his face. Coen said the man was either Hispanic or a black man with a light complexion. Wolters said he could not describe the man, but did notice a tattoo on his left arm.

A check of the getaway car’s license plate revealed that it was a dealer plate and belonged to a used car lot owned by David Colvin, Sr. Colvin, Sr. said that his son, David Colvin, Jr. had been driving the car on the day of the crime. Colvin, Jr. initially denied driving the car, however, and claimed that he had loaned it to a friend named Edward Miller. Miller at first denied being in the car, but ultimately admitted—as did Colvin, Jr.—that they were in the car that day, driving around smoking crack.

Colvin and Miller said they drove to an apartment complex in Kansas City, Kansas intending to get more drugs, but didn’t have much money. They picked up a man they knew as “Rick” near the complex. Colvin and Miller said Rick directed them to the Wal-Mart parking lot, where he committed the crime and got back into the car with them.

On June 1, 1999, police took Coen to Colvin Sr.’s car lot. Coen said that an employee named George Dillon resembled the purse-snatcher facially, although his physical characteristics were different. Six days later, police showed a photographic lineup to Coen that included Colvin, Jr.’s photograph. Coen, however, identified someone else who had nothing to do with the crime.

On August 21, 1999—nearly three months after the crime, Colvin, Jr. was taken to the police department in Kansas City, where he viewed a database of photographs of black males with the first name of “Rick” or “Richard.” Although Colvin, Jr. said he had been ingesting crack cocaine most of the day and had a foggy memory, he selected the 202nd photograph as the man named “Rick” who had been in the car and committed the purse snatching. The photograph was of 23-year-old Richard Jones, who lived in Kansas City, Missouri, across the Missouri River from Kansas, where the crime occurred.

On August 30, 1999, police created a photographic lineup that included Richard Jones’s photograph. Jones was the only light-skinned person depicted in the lineup—the others had very dark skin. In addition, four of the six had blue eyes, although no one said the attacker had blue eyes and Jones did not have blue eyes. Police showed this lineup to Miller, who was incarcerated on an unrelated conviction. Miller selected Jones as the purse-snatcher.

Unlike the perpetrator described by the Wal-Mart customer who witnessed the crime, Jones did not have a tattoo on his left arm. Nevertheless, on October 7, 1999, Jones was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery.

Two weeks later, on October 21, 1999, Coen, the Wal-Mart security guard, viewed the same photographic lineup and also identified Richard Jones. Subsequently, at a preliminary hearing, Scherer, despite previously saying she could not identify her attacker, picked out Jones in the courtroom as the man she struggled with over her purse.

Jones went to trial in Johnson County Circuit Court in April 2001. Scherer identified Jones at her attacker. Coen also identified Jones as the purse-snatcher. Neither Miller nor Colvin, Jr. identified Jones as the man who rode in the car with them and committed the robbery. There was no physical or forensic evidence presented.

Jones testified that he spent the day of the crime with his family celebrating Memorial Day and his girlfriend’s birthday at his home in Kansas City, Missouri. His girlfriend and her sister testified that they were with Jones all day and during the time of the robbery.

On April 24, 2001, the jury convicted Jones and he was sentenced to 19 years in prison. He appealed, and the Kansas Court of Appeals upheld the conviction in 2003.

While in prison, Jones became aware of another person—Ricky Amos—who looked very much like him. In the fall of 2015, the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies at the University of Kansas School of Law began working on the case based on information that Jones provided about Amos.

A photograph of Amos showed that he looked almost identical to Jones. Amos had prior convictions in Wyandotte County, Kansas—which was where Colvin, Jr. and Miller said they picked up “Rick” on the day of the crime. Moreover, investigators found that Amos was connected to 2722 West 41st Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas—the address where Colvin, Jr. said they picked him up. Amos previously lived with his mother very near the Wal-Mart where the crime occurred.

Photographs of Amos and Johnson were shown side-by-side to Scherer, who said that had she seen them at the time of the trial, she would not have had enough confidence to say that Jones was her attacker—she could not tell them apart. Miller also was shown the photographs, and he agreed that he could not tell Jones and Amos apart. Miller said that if forced to pick, he would choose the man on the left as the robber. That photograph was of Amos. Likewise, Coen, when showed the photographs of Amos and Jones, said he could not distinguish between them.

In 2016, the Project for Innocence, joined by the Midwest Innocence Project, filed a petition for a new trial, citing the evidence about Amos’s appearance and the statements of the victim and witnesses that they could not tell them apart. The petition also included a sworn affidavit from John Cowles, who prosecuted Jones, but had left the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office for private law practice.

Cowles said, “The information provided to me…undermined whatever confidence I had at the time that the trial of Richard Jones resulted in a just result.” He added, “It is not my place to reach a conclusion that the new information proves Mr. Jones’s innocence, but I do believe that it would be appropriate for (the Project for Innocence) to pursue whatever relief might still be available to Mr. Jones.”

On June 7, 2017, following an evidentiary hearing during which Amos testified and denied involvement in the crime, Kansas 10th Judicial Circuit Judge Kevin Moriarty vacated Jones’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Noting the “uncanny” resemblance of Amos to Jones, Judge Moriarty concluded that he had “no doubt that a jury would not be able to reach a determination that (Jones) was guilty, and this court does not believe any reasonable jury could have made such a decision in this case.”

Hours later, Jones was released. On June 12, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/21/2017
State:Kansas
County:Johnson
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1999
Convicted:2001
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:19 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No