The Doppelgänger Defense: Kansas City Man Released After 17 Years When His Virtual Twin Is Found In Prison

lookalike-prisonersWe often joke about the “evil twin defense” and have seen a few actual cases (here and here and here and here). However, I just came across a case from earlier this year where Richard Anthony Jones (left) had an apparent twin who was no relation but a dead ringer for the man.  So similar that the Kansas man spent 17 years in prison for a 1999 robbery that he may not have committed.

Jones had heard from other prisoners that there was a guy in prison who looked just like him and even had the same first name. Jones actually had an alibi when charged in the 1999 aggravated robbery but his picture was selected from a police database and identified by victims and witnesses.  Notably, four of the six suspects had blue eyes but none of the witnesses had described the assailant as having blue eyes.

He told his counsel who decided to look into the rumor and found the man.  At a hearing in Johnson County District Court, witnesses, including the robbery victim, were shown the two pictures and could not tell them apart.  They said that they could no longer say that Jones was the man at the robbery.  Accordingly, Johnson County District Judge Kevin Moriarty ordered Jones’ release.

The other man also testified at the hearing and denied that he was the robber.

The extraordinary work shown in this case can be attributed to the Midwest Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Defender Project at the University of Kansas.


28 thoughts on “The Doppelgänger Defense: Kansas City Man Released After 17 Years When His Virtual Twin Is Found In Prison”

  1. Why is it so difficult to overturn a conviction? It seems as though prosecutors simply don’t want to take points off the board.

  2. Some years back I crossed paths with someone that looked so much like me that his friends & co-workers could not tell the difference when they were six feet from me – never met the person – but his name was Vince

    So yes I happens

  3. Thankfully such groups exist to help people falsely accused. Given that many prisons are privatized I wonder about the profit motive. Even after a person has been exonerated and ordered to be released the AG can still try to block it as in this Kafkaesque case where “The Attorney General’s main argument was that even if Danny was innocent, his conviction should not be reversed because he waited too long to file his petition. In other words, an innocent man should spend his life in prison due to a legal technicality” The AG btw was now Senator Kamala Harris.

    Can Richard Anthony Jones sue the lawyer?

  4. I had a similar case where a young man was allegedly caught on tape during a drug deal. He denied involvement and was only exonerated when we called his mother to testify that the image in the video was her older, ex-con son. It happens.

    1. Thank God your client was exonerated.

      I worked with a woman whose sister had become a meth addict. She stole her identity and really spiraled out of control. The first my coworker learned of the identity theft was when she was detained returning from a vacation in Mexico with her boyfriend. They had her on any number of felonies. If I recall the story correctly, her sister had been convicted several times under her identity, so she now had a very lengthy criminal record. She’d skipped on the last handful of crimes, and was wanted. Luckily, the photos of her sister, wrecked and wasting away from heavy drug use, looked nothing like her. The difference between identity photo and her sister had been attributed to the ravages of drugs, which is how that stolen identity had passed so many times. It was quite an understatement to say it had been difficult to untangle, as well as to explain to the boyfriend she’d been traveling with.

      It is frightening to think that she very easily could have gone to prison. After all, it was her own identity under which her sister had been convicted.

      This is a good reason to sign up for credit protection like Lifelock to periodically check public records.

      1. Nice plug for LifeLock, Karen.

        “Can You Still Trust LifeLock?”,news-21372.html

        “Do you need to pay for LifeLock’s services?”

        “Most people will never need to pay for an identity-protection service. Such services are truly useful to only two groups of people: those who learn that their highly sensitive personal information, such as dates of birth or Social Security numbers, have been compromised in a data breach; and those who know that someone else is already impersonating them.”

        From Wikipedia:

        “Also in 2007, co-founder Todd Davis publicly posted his Social Security number as part of an ad campaign to promote the company’s identity theft protection services. Davis was a victim of 13 cases of identity theft between 2007 and 2008.[51][52] Regarding the campaign, Davis said, “We were trying to make the point that … all it takes is one data breach. The point of that campaign was to take proactive steps to protect your identity.”

        “In February 2008, the credit information company Experian sued LifeLock for fraud and false advertising. Experian alleged that LifeLock placed false fraud alerts on behalf of its clients, thus keeping LifeLock clients’ files in a constant state of alert. As part of a 2009 settlement, LifeLock set up a new proprietary service that does not rely on setting fraud alerts.

        “In March 2010, LifeLock was fined $12 million by the Federal Trade Commission for deceptive advertising. The FTC called the company’s prior marketing claims misleading to consumers by claiming to be a 100% guarantee against all forms of identity theft.

        “FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, referring to the LifeLock TV ad showing the truck, said that “the protection they provided left such a large hole … that you could drive that truck through it.” LifeLock agreed to pay $12 million to settle charges, by the FTC and 35 states, that the company’s identity theft prevention and data security claims were false.

        “In 2015, the FTC found LifeLock to be in contempt of the 2010 agreement, charging that they “failed to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program”, and “falsely advertised that it protected consumers’ sensitive data”. The FTC obtained a $100 million monetary penalty against LifeLock to settle the contempt charge. Of that fine, $68 million is to be held for class-action refunds to LifeLock customers.” -end of Wiki excerpt

        1. Is it?

          “Q. Ads for the identity-protection service LifeLock are everywhere. But is it worth the cost?

          “A. We’ve noticed the barrage of ads, too. You should know that in December, LifeLock paid a $100 million judgment to settle a Federal Trade Commission claim accusing the identity-protection company of running false ads that overstated the strength of its safeguards. LifeLock didn’t admit or deny the allegations (not uncommon for FTC actions), but regardless, we don’t think the $110 to $330 annual cost is worth it.

          “The majority of identity-theft cases are credit and debit card fraud, and federal law and voluntary industry protections can limit victims’ liability to a small amount or nothing. In fact, 86 percent of identity-fraud victims had zero out-of-pocket costs in 2014, the Department of Justice reports.

          “LifeLock monitors transactions at banks, wireless carriers, payday lenders, and black-market websites to alert people in case crooks try to open fraudulent new accounts with their stolen identity. But you can often thwart such fraud yourself by putting a security freeze on your credit reports at the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). That can cost nothing to $30 total. LifeLock may recommend a freeze “in some cases,” a spokesperson told us, but it can’t place one for you.”

      2. One matter that I could never understand the reason for such was that (at least it was 10 years ago) a few states issued the same license plate number concurrently. This was possible as one number could be issued to a car and the same number to a pick-up truck. I learned later that this is the reason why when running a vehicle inquiry through NCIC, it is necessary to supply the vehicle type.

        I had two incidents that required a lot of untangling to sort out due to this problem and they could have turned out badly for some individuals if the standard course of process was used.

        I worried that there existed a potential for a bad incident where a victim / reporting party obtained a license plate but could not articulate what kind of vehicle it was and then a mistaken identification happened later by law enforcement.

  5. I don’t believe that these two men look alike. Just because both enjoy sporting braids and facial hair doesn’t make them indistinguishable.

    1. This is like the two Oswalds in the JFK assassination conspiracy.


  6. The is a theory that we each have a doppelganger, we just have not met them yet. 🙂 Given the inability to identify the correct subject, I think they are obligated to let him out since he had an alibi.

  7. Finally followed the story. Hope he receives a substantial sum for his 17 years of involuntary servitude.

  8. I believe It was Judge Learned Hand who made a statement better to let 1000 go free than wrongly convict one innocent. He of course did not include a later statistic that everyone of the 1,000 freed average 1,000 victims each. But that was in a different time now we have facial metrics, DNA and more to back up fingerprinting.

    What we don’t have anymore insome cases is probable cause. I’m referring to certain provisions of the Patriot Act which supposedly were written from for foeigners but failed to exclude in writing US Citizens.

    Especially when probable cause and most if not all civil rights can be disappeared in favor of ‘suspicion without proof.’

    There is still room for improvement.

    1. I thought it was Blackstone responsible for that expression, and I think it is “10 guilty men” rather than 1,000. Of course, the point is that we do not want to convict anyone without due process and evidence. I find it amazing that he was convicted even though he had an alibi. I cringe when I hear someone say “he got off on a technicality.” Those “technicalities” are called Due Process, and that is guaranteed by our Constitution. I agree that recently we seem to be all too willing to give up some of those rights.

    2. Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) (1135 or 1138 – 12 December 1204) wrote: “It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.” He far predated Blackstone or Judge Learned Hand.

  9. We don’t know whether he was wrongly convicted or not. He may have gotten lucky when he learned that another prisoner looked somewhat like him, and he chose to confuse matters even further by adopting the same hairstyle and facial hair in order to further his “mistaken identity” defense. If he can actually be cleared of the crime, he deserves some compensation. But if it’s still an open question, then he’s just lucky to be getting out of prison.

    1. You bring up a good point. From the limited amount of information available it seems as though the judge / prosecution released him after a witness stated she was unable to identify the suspect. To me this sounds more like a determination of insufficient evidence to sustain and substantiate his conviction and not necessarily prove his innocence–which might be probable but in essence is not entirely relevant legally. Yet, with the alibi combined that surely was compelling to release him from custody.

      I would find it worthwhile to review the case file but this is also a lesson to others that innocence is not an absolute requirement to exonerate a defendant. It is actually that the state proved to a trier of fact that the evidence is sufficient to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt the person is guilty of a crime.

      1. The lesser burden often isn’t sufficient once the conviction is final, though. It depends on the state’s laws as to what the review will be. It is not unconstitutional to keep even a demonstrably innocent man in prison.

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