After 45 years, Wilbert Jones walked out of a Louisiana prison a free man on Wednesday. Now 65, Jones was just 19 when he was arrested and subsequently sentenced to life without parole.
But despite spending the majority of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit, Jones said he harbors no grudges, declaring “God is so good,” as he was released, according to the Associated Press.
Wilbert Jones (right) hugs William Aquino, attorney for Innocence Project New Orleans (GERALD HERBERT/AP)
Jones’ rape conviction was overturned by State District Judge Richard Anderson, who said Jones’ case was “weak at best.”
“Freedom. After more than 45 years and 10 months. That’s going through my mind,” Jones said, hugging his brother, Plem Jones, outside of East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, the AP reported.
“I forgave. I forgive,” he told reporters. “I didn’t have control of it. Why should I worry about it? I’m in charge of myself.”
Jones told NBC News he had important plans upon his release.
Wilbert Jones holds hands with his niece Wajeedah Jones as he leaves East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (GERALD HERBERT/AP)
“Some gumbo and some good potato salad and some good dessert,” he said. “Enjoy my little life I have left and speak to young kids and tell them to go the right way and not this way.”
His niece, Wajeedah Jones, told The Detroit News she already knew of her uncle’s request. “We will have the gumbo ready for him when he gets out,” she said.
“Most of my life was taken away from me for something I didn’t do,” Jones said, according to CBS News. “I feel wonderful and I thank God for this opportunity. And I thank God for this legal team.”
“It’s been very difficult,” Jones added, describing his decades in prison. “I mean… very difficult.”
Jones was convicted of kidnapping and raping a nurse who was abducted from outside of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, hospital in October 1971. In 1974, Jones was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The Innocence Project took his case in 2003 and one of their investigators discovered that a serial rapist had committed a nearly identical crime four weeks later. The crime was not shared with Jones’ attorneys.
The nurse was the only witness who testified against Jones, according to NBC News. She identified him out of a lineup, but noticed that he was shorter and had a different voice. She died in 2008.