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Thu, 08.12.2004

Black prisoner freed from jail after 41 unjust years

Mr. & Mrs Coney

*On this date in 2004, a 76-year-old Black prisoner walked out of jail, a free man after 41 years of imprisonment.

Texas State District Judge David Wilson dismissed the conviction against Robert Carroll Coney, convicted of a 1962 robbery. Showing a surprising lack of bitterness as he left Angelina County Jail with his wife on Tuesday Coney said. "I'm going to try to pick up the pieces." Coney said his identity had been confused with a man he had carpooled with through Lufkin, TX on the day of the crime: March 7, 1962.

Court documents showed that Coney falsely confessed to the crime after Angelina County deputies broke his hand. The Judge investigated the case and found that then-Angelina County Sheriff Leon Jones and his deputies used physical force to extract confessions, often crushing prisoners' fingers between jail cell bars. When the judge questioned Coney, the (then) prisoner held up two twisted and bent fingers. "I remember the sheriff well."

Further findings revealed that Coney probably did not see a lawyer until he stood before a judge in the case with then-court-appointed lawyer Gilbert Spring. Spring said he didn't remember Coney's case and told the court that courts frequently called attorneys in the 1960s to stand with defendants for no money.

Coney spent time in jail in several states, including Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and escaped and was recaptured many times. While imprisoned, many prison guards and lawyers took up his cause and wrote letters to judges calling for Coney's release. Eventually, a Huntsville prison system record-keeper found his original paperwork in a closed case file.

The Associated Press
450 W. 33rd St.,
New York, NY 10001.

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