In 1971, a nurse in Baton Rouge was walking through the parking lot of a local hospital when she was abducted at gun point and then raped. Wilbert Jones was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. But earlier this week, the New Orleans Innocence Project argued in court that Jones deserves a new trial because he was misidentified and that prosecutors originally failed to disclose that they’d linked a different man to strikingly similar crimes in the years leading up to Jones’ conviction.
Earlier this week, Innocence Project New Orleans Executive Director Emily Maw was in court. She and Jones’ other lawyers were there to question Arnold Ray O’Conner, the man who they believe may be responsible for the 1971 crime for which Jones was convicted. O’Connor’s fingerprints were found in the car of another woman who, like the initial 1971 victim, had been abducted from a hospital parking lot near Baton Rouge and raped. That crime occurred within weeks of the attack for which Jones was convicted. Another similar attack was reported in 1973.
According to reports, O’Connor has a gap in his teeth and is short in stature, which matches the physical description of the man described as the attacker by two of the victims.
According to the Advocate, when questioned by Maw about whether he knew anything about the first 1971 rape and abduction, O’Connor evoked his Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination. He told Maw that he would never speak about the 1971 rapes.
Innocence Project New Orleans’ attorneys argue that had the trial prosecutors disclosed to Jones’ defense attorneys the police reports of the other Baton Rouge attacks, Jones could have received a fair trial. His attorneys could have argued that the police needed to further investigate whether Jones’ case was in fact connected to those other crimes and committed by another person.
“It would have made a difference to the jury,” Innocence Project New Orleans lawyer Jee Park told the judge, reported the Advocate.