Royal Clark Jr. was released from prison after serving time for an armed robbery he didn’t commit. The Louisiana man tasted freedom for the first time on June 27 after serving over 17 years behind bars. The New Orleans Innocence Project’s diligent and necessary work led to Royal’s freedom.
In 2001, Royal was arrested in connection to an armed robbery at a Burger King in Terrytown, Louisiana. The only evidence prosecutors had was the testimony of an employee of the restaurant, who incorrectly identified Royal Clark Jr., as the perpetrator. He was convicted and sentenced to serve to 49 and a half years in 2003.
Royal always maintained his innocence. The Innocence Project New Orleans and the district attorney’s office requested a new fingerprint analysis be performed after attorneys determined that eyewitness testimony isn’t necessarily reliable. Many times witnesses are under duress from trauma, so gathering other critical evidence is key to punishing the correct person.
Once Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick re-examined fingerprints found at the scene of the robbery, the district attorney’s office discovered the prints belonged to Jessie Perry, who had already been previously convicted of committing other robberies. His fingerprints were in the Louisiana State database.
“As district attorney, my obligation to seek justice does not end upon conviction,” District Attorney Paul Connick said in a statement, “When the evidence reveals an individual was wrongfully convicted, my office will take action to correct that injustice.”
The entire prosecution, including the judge on the first case, was a sham. They were complicit in railroading Royal Clark Jr. The most sinister pieces to the previous investigation were that the police had the fingerprints when the robbery first took place and multiple witnesses did not give consistent testimony. Jessie Perry’s statement said that she didn’t look at the defendant because he had a gun in her back. So how could she point him out in a lineup? Why weren’t the fingerprints analyzed then?
Kia Hall Hayes, from the Innocence Project, maintained how unreliable eyewitness testimony could be.
“His case serves as another example of the unreliability of eyewitness identification evidence, the importance of judges allowing juries all the tools they need to assess the evidence accurately, and the danger of relying exclusively on such evidence to take away someone’s liberty.”
Royal Clark Jr.’s is the second man in Louisiana to be released from prison after being wrongly convicted of a crime. Although the Innocence Project New Orleans’ work is necessary, it is undoubtedly the responsibility of law enforcement and prosecutors to look at all the evidence and act accordingly.