A state judge set a $2,000 bail Tuesday for a 64-year-old Baton Rouge man who has spent nearly 46 years in prison for a rape conviction that the judge recently threw out.
Wilbert Jones, who remained calm throughout the hearing, is expected to be released from prison Wednesday into the waiting arms of family and friends who said they have been praying for this day.
"He already requested gumbo," Jones' niece, Wajeedah Jones, said outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse where District Judge Richard Anderson set her uncle's bail.
Anderson tossed out Jones' 1974 rape conviction on Oct. 31, ruling that the state withheld "highly favorable" evidence from the defense. That evidence, the judge said, probably would have resulted in a different outcome at his trial.
Jones was found guilty of aggravated rape and sentenced to life in prison.
East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors are appealing to the Louisiana Supreme Court the decision to throw out Jones' conviction
Jones' attorneys with Innocence Project New Orleans argued before Anderson Tuesday that Jones is not a flight risk and poses no danger to society. They asked him to either release Jones outright or set a nominal bail. Assistant District Attorney Dana Cummings said too small a bail would be disrespectful to the rape charge and seriousness of the case.
Before the judge set the bail amount, Hunt Correctional Center Warden Timothy Hooper testified that Jones has been a model prisoner and is someone who is looked up to by his fellow inmates.
"He's been locked up for 45 years. It's going to be hard for him," Hooper said of what Jones faces outside of the prison walls. The warden said Jones has participated in re-entry classes.
Jones' older brother, Plem Jones, said he and his wife will take Wilbert Jones in and make sure he makes all future court appearances. His next court date is Jan. 23.
"We're ready for him to come home," Plem Jones' wife, Wilda Jones, testified.
A jury may not have convicted Wilbert Jones of abducting and raping a nurse in 1971 if it had heard that several weeks later, a "strikingly si…
Wajeedah Jones, the daughter of Plem and Wilda Jones, lives on the same street as her parents and said she has no fear for her children when it comes to Wilbert Jones.
Pastor Randy Currier, who ministered at Hunt Correctional for 20 years, said Jones was a regular Bible study attendee and was pleasant, respectful and genuine.
"He didn't ever complain. He always had a smile on his face," Currier testified.
After Anderson set Jones' bail, Wilda Jones shed tears outside the courtroom.
"Wonderful! Wonderful! So happy! Probably going to have a party," she said.
"Oh man! It's like a weight has been lifted off of me," Plem Jones added. "I knew this day would come one day. I just didn't know when."
Plem Jones said his brother has no bitter feelings, but he has cried over the years.
"He's been so humble," Plem Jones said.
Wajeedah Jones called Wilbert Jones the missing piece to their family.
"It means the world to us," she said of his impending release from prison.
Innocence Project New Orleans has worked on Jones' case since 2003, said Emily Maw, the group's director. Sometimes it takes the courts a long time to recognize and right a wrong, she added.
Wilbert Jones has spent more than 45 years behind bars for a rape the Baton Rouge man and his attorneys contend he didn't commit, but the man …
Jones was convicted of abducting a young Baton Rouge General Center nurse from the hospital parking lot at gunpoint on Oct. 2, 1971, and raping her. Just 27 days later, a young woman who was visiting Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center was kidnapped from that hospital's parking lot at gunpoint and raped.
Arnold Ray O'Conner's fingerprints were found on the Our Lady of the Lake victim's car, but he was never charged despite being arrested. O'Conner, 63, also of Baton Rouge, was convicted, however, of armed robbery in a September 1973 home invasion rape near Baton Rouge General.
Anderson ruled the state was legally obligated to turn over information about the Oct. 29, 1971, incident at Our Lady of the Lake to the Jones' trial attorneys but failed to do so. The judge said there were a "plethora of similarities" between the Baton Rouge General rape victim's description of her attacker and O'Conner's characteristics. He also said there were "striking similarities" between the two October 1971 rapes.
In his ruling last month, Anderson described the state's case against Jones as "weak, at best" and said it rested solely on the victim's testimony and "questionable identification" of Jones. The woman died in 2008.
Prosecutors have said they cannot retry the case without her.