Prosecutors Reach $2M Settlement With Man Who Served 23 Years Before Being Cleared

Prosecutors in Louisiana reached a $2 million settlement with a New Orleans man who was falsely accused and convicted on charges including rape and manslaughter before being exonerated, the Associated Press reported.

Robert Jones spent nearly two dozen years in prison after being convicted in 1996 of rape and robbery. Despite having maintained his innocence during the trial, Jones pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the killing of British tourist Julie Stott.

"I welcome this measure of justice after so many years," Jones, 48, community outreach director for Orleans Public Defenders, said in a statement released through his attorneys.

The money will be paid over six years, according to a press release from Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

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Prosecutors in Louisiana reached a $2 million settlement with a New Orleans man who was falsely accused and convicted on charges including rape and manslaughter before being exonerated. Above, a young performer plays bucket drums as people gather on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter on August 15, 2021, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mario Tama/Getty Images

"After years of intense litigation, and with trial approaching," the settlement will avert the expense of a three- to four-week trial and the risk that a jury might award Jones more money, the statement said.

A state appeal court vacated the convictions in 2014 because prosecutors under former District Attorney Harry Connick, who retired in 2003, never gave defense lawyers some favorable evidence. Williams said he and Jones' attorneys worked out policies to ensure that defense lawyers get such evidence.

Jones was released on parole from Louisiana's maximum-security prison in 2015. Two years later, on Jones' 44th birthday, Judge Jerome Winsberg vacated his guilty plea and formally accepted the decision by prosecutors not to retry the rape and robbery charges.

Former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office dropped charges against Jones. At the time, a spokesman said prosecutors didn't consider him exonerated but felt it impractical to retry a case more than two decades old.

Williams said in a news release that he "intends to keep working toward the day when the District Attorney's Office will not be burdened with vacated convictions and wrongful-conviction lawsuits" from previous administrations.

On Monday, a man sentenced to life without parole for stealing a wallet was freed after prosecutors agreed to dismiss a habitual offender sentencing enhancement brought against him under Cannizzaro.

Williams' office also recently agreed, without disclosing terms, to resolve remaining claims in a lawsuit involving practices that included using fake subpoenas to threaten uncooperative witnesses with jail time, The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reported.

In June, a judge overturned a Black man's murder conviction after prosecutors agreed with defense attorneys that it was unlikely that earlier prosecutors struck a dozen possible Black jurors by chance.

Another murder conviction was overturned in May after Williams said earlier prosecutors had failed to turn over favorable evidence.

Cannizzaro, who did not run for reelection last year, now works for state Attorney General Jeff Landry.

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.