Freed After 41 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

Unbelievable. Robert Carroll Coney is now 76. A judge has vacated his conviction, finding that his confession was forced by cops who broke his hand. He was released today after serving a whopping 41 years in jail. And he's not bitter.

A 76-year-old prisoner walked out of jail, a free man for the first time in 41 years, after a judge dismissed the conviction against him. Robert Carroll Coney, convicted of a 1962 robbery, exhibited a surprising lack of bitterness as he left Angelina County Jail with his wife on Tuesday. "I'm going to try to pick up the pieces," Coney told the Lufkin Daily News in Wednesday's editions. "If I was angry, what could I do about it?"

Coney said his identity had been confused with a man he had carpooled with through Lufkin on the day of the crime: March 7, 1962. Court documents state Coney falsely confessed to the crime after Angelina County deputies broke his hand, the Daily News reported. State District Judge David Wilson, who dismissed Coney's charges, 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. (emphasis supplied.)

When Wilson questioned Coney, the prisoner held up two twisted and bent fingers. "I remember the sheriff well," Coney said. He said the jailers, in addition to mangling his hand, threatened his life and scared him into confessing. Wilson's findings stated 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 Wilson that courts frequently called attorneys in the 1960s to stand with defendants for no money.

How did this travesty of justice come to light?

Eventually, a Huntsville prison system record-keeper found his original paperwork in a closed case file. "If it weren't for her, they would have never found it," Coney said. Huntsville attorney David P. O'Neill worked on Coney's case and said he hadn't seen anything like it in 25 years of practicing criminal law. "It really contains everybody's worst fears about what went on during certain darker years in this country," O'Neill said.

How about this? He stay married the whole time.

Coney said he may consider a civil suit at some point but initially wants to focus on his family - eating dinner with his full-grown grandchildren and fixing up the house for his wife of nearly 50 years. Holding his wife's hand as he left the jail Tuesday for their Dallas home, Coney said little about the ordeal and focused solely on the simple and familiar. "We're going home," Coney said.

Update: The New York Times profiles Mr. Coney.

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