A California man finally regained his freedom after spending a little over two decades in jail for a double homicide that he and the Loyola Project for the Innocent at Loyola Marymount University say he did not commit, citing new evidence.
On Sept. 11, 2000, then 20-year-old Dwight Jones was found guilty for a 1999 drive-by shooting that reportedly was gang-related.
The shooting left two dead and four wounded at Casa Loma Park, the site of a wake and barbecue on Aug. 6, 1999, following a funeral, authorities said, for a slain associate of a local gang. In addition, Jones was hit with four counts of attempted murder and conspiracy, according to The Associated Press.
At the time of the crime, several people were arrested, including Jones. However, two suspects were acquitted. Jones, who is Black, was sent to Lerdo Pretrial Facility in the California Central Valley community on a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Jones’ downfall was a witness who placed him at the scene, and a fingerprint indicated Jones was in the Jeep Cherokee where the shots were fired. However, Megan Baca, a senior staff attorney and investigation coordinator with Loyola Project for the Innocent, found new evidence that cast doubt on that argument.
Baca and her team reportedly spoke to 40 people who claimed to know Jones and said the now 41-year-old had no motive to commit the crime. The team also said there was no evidence to show Jones was a gang member.
Through several interviews, Baca and her team learned that Jones’ palm print was discovered in the Jeep because several people in the neighborhood operated the car. On that day, Jones borrowed the vehicle to play basketball and returned it to its owner before the shooting. In addition, many people stated that Jones was outside of his home at the time.
“But the most critical witnesses who could have attested to Jones’s alibi were not called to testify at trial, and he was convicted of two counts of murder, and four counts of attempted murder, along with multiple gun and gang enhancements,” according to the Loyola Project.
“It’s crazy how they could be so wrong about you, but portray it like they’re so right,” Jones told KGET News. “And they put out a false perception to the public and have everybody thinking one way when it’s really not the truth, and you know, it’s unfair. But it is what it is, the past is behind me. Now I’m trying to get on to my next chapter and live my life to the fullest.”
Jones recently spoke at Marymount University post his release about what he’s done, including going “to see the Staples Center.” He added, “I’m like, ‘Wow,’ you know, because I’m a Lakers fan. Just seeing regular people in regular clothes, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ We went to the store last night, and I just started taking pictures because that was like, ‘Wow.’ ”
Kern County Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel said Jones was not “factually innocent.” However, with the recent discovery, Jones was offered reduced charges to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and personal use of a firearm with enhancement. He accepted and was later resentenced to time served in prison after pleading no contest to two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
After being released, Jones says he wants to catch up with family and eventually get a job and reintegrate into society.