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Hearing ordered for man serving life sentence for 1971 rape

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A man serving a life sentence for the 1971 rape of a nurse is getting a court-ordered hearing to determine if authorities withheld evidence that could exonerate him.

In January, Innocence Project New Orleans attorneys had asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to order a new trial for Wilbert Jones. Instead, the justices voted 4-3 for a district court judge to hold a “full evidentiary hearing” on Jones’ claims he was denied a fair trial.

Chief Justice Bernette Johnson wrote Friday that she is “gravely concerned” evidence in the case may have been misplaced or prematurely destroyed before DNA tests could be performed.

“It is not apparent to me from the materials presently before the court what evidence was destroyed, why it was destroyed, what evidence has been lost, and whether any might remain to be found and tested,” Johnson wrote.

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Jones’ attorneys claim authorities concealed evidence another man raped the woman who had been abducted from a Baton Rouge hospital’s parking lot on the night of Oct. 2, 1971.

The other man fit the nurse’s description of her attacker and was suspected of kidnapping and raping two other women under similar circumstances in the early 1970s, according to Jones’ lawyers. They claim authorities withheld that evidence from Jones’ trial attorneys.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore’s office said the state didn’t withhold any “relevant, material evidence” about other Baton Rouge rapists.

“The state was not obligated to document for the defense every rape or abduction that occurred in Baton Rouge from 1971 to 1974,” prosecutors wrote in a February court filing.

The three justices who voted against a hearing for Jones didn’t give written reasons.

Jones, now 64, was 19 when police arrested him on suspicion of carjacking the nurse at gunpoint and raping her behind a…

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