With charges dropped, man imprisoned for 23 years files suit

AP News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2018 5:47 PM
With charges dropped, man imprisoned for 23 years files suit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Almost a year after charges against him were formally dropped in a 1992 crime spree, a man who spent more than 20 years behind bars is seeking damages from the New Orleans district attorney's office.

Attorneys for Robert Jones filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court.

Jones had pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of a British tourist after being convicted of crimes including robbery, kidnapping and rape.

An appeals court threw out all of the convictions in 2014 and Jones was freed on bond in 2015 in the face of evidence that then-District Attorney Harry Connick's assistants failed to turn over information indicating his innocence. Last January, the manslaughter conviction was vacated and current District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office formally ended prosecution on all charges.

Jones' case is reminiscent of that of John Thompson, an exonerated former death row inmate who won a $14 million judgment against the New Orleans prosecutors, only to have it overturned in a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011. The five conservative-leaning judges in that case said the prosecutor's office couldn't be punished for not providing specific training to young prosecutors on when to turn over evidence to a suspect's lawyer. Justice Clarence Thomas' opinion for the majority noted an absence of "a specific pattern of violations."

A lawyer for Thompson said Jones' case is different because his lawyers now have the benefit of more research.

What Jones' attorneys have done is say, 'OK, we've now assembled evidence of a pattern,'" said Thompson's attorney, Michael Banks.

Jones' lawsuit says a review of publicly available information reveals 45 cases in which the district attorney's office failed to make required disclosures, including 34 that it says occurred before Jones' trial. Nine led to reversals of convictions, the lawsuit said.

When Cannizzaro's office dropped charges against Jones last year, a spokesman at the time said prosecutors didn't consider Jones to be exonerated, but cited the difficulty in trying a case more than two decades old. Jones' lawyers had suggested in court filings that Cannizzaro's staff kept the case alive because they feared dropping the charges could lead to a lawsuit.

In a statement emailed by his spokesman, Cannizzaro declined to comment on Tuesday's lawsuit.

Connick, who retired in 2003, has long defended his 30-year tenure as district attorney against allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in various cases. Now in his 90s, he has consistently declined to comment on specific cases.