A Jackson County judge has ordered the release of a man wrongfully convicted of rape and robbery in 1984.
In a news release issued Friday afternoon, the Midwest Innocence Project said the release occurred on Wednesday.
DNA evidence exonerated Robert Nelson, who did not appear at a news conference Friday. He was picked up earlier this week by his sister and her family.
"The flaws in our justice system can only be corrected by those who seek the truth," said Laura O'Sullivan, legal director of the Midwest Innocence Project. "Thankfully, the Jackson County prosecutors were interested in seeking the truth. Their cooperation led to Robert Nelson's release and identification of the true perpetrators in this crime. But that is the only silver lining to the tragedy that Robert endured: convicted of a crime he did not commit."
Nelson is now trying to adjust to all the changes in technology since he first entered a jail cell. This includes smartphones and using a door button rather than a crank to lower a car window.
"As I explained to Robert that he was going home, I asked what he wanted to do and he said he was fearful to imagine or hope," O'Sullivan said during a news conference Friday. "He was greeted by this sister and her family . . . on a beautiful clear day. His wish came true."
On Dec. 16, 1983, two men armed with a sawed-off shotgun forced their way into a Kansas City home near 56th Street and Bellefontaine Avenue. The men raped a 24-year-old woman and stole her jewelry and money. They also stole her vehicle.
That year, 65 rapes were reported in neighborhoods in southeast Kansas City. Rewards were offered for anonymous tips.
An anonymous caller in January said that two brothers with the last name "Ramsey" were in the Jackson County Jail for robbery and that those two brothers were responsible for the rapes "out South."
Attempts to locate the Ramseys were unsuccessful, the Innocence Project said, but Nelson and his older brother were in the Jackson County Jail awaiting trial for robbery.
The victim was shown a series of mug shots but could not identify them via the photos. She identified Nelson after hearing his voice.
"In a police lineup, the victim could only tentatively identify Nelson. Incredibly, both Nelson and his older brother were charged with the forcible rape and robbery," the news release from the Innocent Project said. "Nelson was tried by a jury, convicted and sentenced to 58 years, while prosecutors dropped charges against his older brother for a lack of evidence."
A judge authorized post-conviction DNA testing 2011. The results absolved Nelson and his brother, but were consistent with the DNA profiles of two others.
Because of the backlog, the DNA final results came back earlier this month. But court documents show that on Aug. 23, 2012, that the semen on the victim's bathrobe was identified as belonging to Jerry A. Haley.
Haley, 48, is in an Iowa jail. He was charged earlier this week with forcible rape, forcible sodomy and robbery charges. The charges were initially sealed, but made public Friday.
A second man is being sought. His identity is not being released by authorities.
Nelson was convicted of the separate robbery he was being held on. That sentence ran until 2006 when he was then in prison solely on the rape charge.
The Innocence Project maintains that Nelson would have been released on parole in the 1990s on the robbery conviction if not for the more serious rape conviction.
"Robert was wrongfully convicted because his attorney did a terrible job and because the victim mistakenly identified him," O'Sullivan said.
The victim now faces going through a new trial involving Haley.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said the victim was devastated to learn the wrong man had been convicted but also relieved by the latest arrest and "she trusts the process."
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