East Baton Rouge Parish prosecutors urged the Louisiana Supreme Court on Friday to reinstate Wilbert Jones' 1974 conviction in the abduction and rape of a young Baton Rouge nurse.
Jones, who spent nearly 46 years in prison for the crime, was released on bail Nov. 15 just two weeks after a state judge ruled prosecutors withheld "highly favorable" evidence from the defense.
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District Judge Richard Anderson agreed with Jones' attorneys that evidence implicating another man, Arnold Ray O'Conner, in a very similar rape a month later outside a different Baton Rouge hospital should have been provided to Jones' trial lawyers.
The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office, in an appeal electronically filed with the state Supreme Court late Friday, claims the second rape — which occurred in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Lake hospital — was common knowledge in Baton Rouge and insists prosecutors did not "hide evidence" from the defense.
"It was defense counsels' duty to investigate their case," prosecutors contend. "They were obviously aware of other rapes in the Baton Rouge area during this period of time."
Jones was twice found guilty in the 1971 rape of a Baton Rouge General Medical Center nurse. The first conviction was thrown out because of statements a prosecutor made to the jury.
"Both juries knew that the victim called the police after the January 14, 1972, lineup to tell them she was ninety-eight percent sure (Jones) was her attacker, that (he) looked a little bit taller on the night of the rape, and that (his) voice seemed different at the lineup," prosecutors argue in their Supreme Court appeal.
"The credibility of this witness and the weight of the evidence was a question for the juries to decide, not the trial court on remand forty-six years after the crime took place."
In his Oct. 31 ruling overturning Jones' conviction, Anderson also cited what he called a "plethora of similarities" between the OLOL suspect and how the Baton Rouge General victim had described her attacker.
Judge tosses BR man's conviction in 1971 rape, says 'highly favorable' evidence withheld
Latest, Nov. 15
The District Attorney's Office said it disagrees with the judge's assessment.
"The physical characteristics of (Jones) and Arnold Ray O'Conner are different," prosecutors argue, "and the trial court was incorrect in its assessment that 'there is a reasonable probability that, had the information been disclosed to competent counsel, the result of the proceeding would have been different.'"
The District Attorney's Office insists there are many differences in the two rapes and say prosecutors "would never have reasonably thought that the same perpetrator could have been responsible for both crimes."
The office also says it cannot try Jones again because the victim in the Baton Rouge General rape died nearly a decade ago.
"The state will not be able to retry this case due to the death of the victim in 2008, as well as the deaths of both trial prosecutors, the lead defense attorney, and many of the law enforcement officers who would be needed as witnesses," prosecutors acknowledge in their appeal.
Jones' Innocence Project New Orleans attorneys say an appeal of Anderson's ruling is a waste of resources and an effort to further deny his legal rights.
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