Wrongfully accused Lake County man faces challenges after freedom from prison
By Glenda Anderson, April 3rd 2016
Even after 20 years behind bars, Luther Jones said he never gave up hope of being cleared of a crime for which he always maintained he was innocent.
He filed appeals and contacted attorneys in search of assistance, but the efforts were of no avail.
“You got to keep hope,” said Jones, 71. “I tried to stay out of depression.”
His dream of freedom finally materialized in February, when the woman who accused him of molesting her when she was 10 years old went to the Lake County District Attorney’s Office to recant her story.
The prosecutor’s office and the courts worked quickly to have Jones released — nine years before his sentence would have expired — and within days he was a free man living with one of his sons in Lake County. His family was thrilled and relieved to have him back.
But his homecoming has not exactly been the stuff of fairy tales.
While in prison, Jones had become seriously ill. He now suffers from kidney and liver failure, diabetes and hepatitis C, according to Ko’Fawn Jones, 41, his son with whom he now lives.
Luther Jones lost 70 pounds while incarcerated, cannot walk or care for himself and requires three hours of dialysis three times a week, his son said.
Since the release, Ko’Fawn Jones has quit his job at Twin Pine Casino, where he worked in shipping and receiving, to care for his dad full time.
“It’s turned upside down,” he said of his life, which was just settling down after the Valley fire displaced him from a previous rental home.
When Ko’Fawn Jones last saw his father 21 years ago, Luther Jones weighed 250 pounds and, at about 6-foot-3, was a formidable presence.
“My dad was a big man. He used to bench over 500 pounds,” Ko’Fawn said.
He blames the prison system for his father’s poor health and contends he received inadequate treatment while incarcerated, most recently in a medical prison facility in Stockton.
Luther Jones is angry about his treatment in prison and about his incarceration. He said anyone who looked at his prior criminal record could see the child molestation charges didn’t fit. He had previously been charged with crimes related to thefts, drugs and domestic violence, according to the prosecutor’s office.
He doesn’t blame the person who accused him, but he does blame her mother, his ex-girlfriend, who allegedly told her daughter to lie. Luther Jones and the mother were battling at the time over the custody of his youngest daughter.
Ko’Fawn Jones is glad to have his father back, regardless of his health, but it’s dramatically changed the younger man’s life. He has four siblings, but for a variety of reasons, the job of caring for his father fell to him.
He said he had no idea how sick his father was until the day he was released from the prison medical facility. The two men had corresponded by mail, but Ko’Fawn hadn’t visited him in person.
When Luther Jones was sent to prison, his son was in the National Guard and unable to get away. In later years, he was prohibited from visiting because he was on probation for getting into fights, Ko’Fawn said.
Because of his failing health, Luther Jones needed to be transported to Lake County by ambulance. He arrived with no care instructions and no assistance, his son said.
Ko’Fawn Jones said the state prison system sent his father home “to a son who doesn’t know anything about medical care.”
There have been tense moments brought on by health crises, like the morning after Luther Jones’ arrival when his son found him unconscious. Luther Jones has been hospitalized three times since he was freed.
His son has had to learn a lot since then, including what Medi-Cal will and won’t fund.
A month after Luther Jones’ release, things are looking up. His medications have been adjusted to make them more effective and he is now in a Lake County rehabilitation facility getting physical therapy, which he and his family hope will allow him to walk again.
He said he’s “lots better” than when he was incarcerated, thanks to improved medical care.
But finances continue to be a struggle. Ko’Fawn Jones has been getting by with the assistance of a local church and people who have contributed almost $2,000 to a GoFundMe account. He said his landlord has been understanding when he has been short on rent.
But they will need more than that to make his father’s remaining life stable and comfortable, he said.
He and his father are hoping that they can right their lives — to the degree possible under the circumstances — with money from a state fund that compensates victims of crime and people who are wrongly convicted.
Luther Jones is eligible for nearly $1 million in restitution if his request is approved by the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. The process can take anywhere from 30 days to several years, according to board officials.
Once approved, it goes to the Legislature for a vote, said Linda Starr, legal director of the Northern California Innocence Project, which has assisted Jones and his attorney, Angela Carter, with the process.
The request was filed in early March, Ko’Fawn Jones said. According to an email response from the claims board to The Press Democrat, it does not have a record of the claim being received.
Unfortunately, delays in payments are all too common, Starr said.
Luther Jones wants to use the money to buy a big house so he can be surrounded by his children and grandchildren and so he can compensate his son for his care and income loss.
“I need my money,” Luther Jones said.
He deserves to have the best life possible after being cheated out of so much time, said Sararena Jones, his eldest daughter, who has a job that requires travel and splits her time between the Bay Area and Atlanta.
“He’s endured a lot. I want him to be in a proper place with proper care. Someplace he can enjoy,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or email@example.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter
This article originally appeared on the April 3rd edition of the Press Democrat’s website. To view it entirely, click here.