Man Freed After 21 Years Behind Bars Over Double Killing

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — A man who spent 21 years in prison over the killings of two people in a Bakersfield gang shooting that he denied committing was freed Thursday, his lawyers announced.

Dwight Jones, 41, was released from the Lerdo Pretrial Facility in the California central valley community, according to the Project for the Innocent at Loyola Marymount University.

Jones was convicted of a gang-related drive-by shooting at Casa Loma Park on Aug. 6, 1999, where a wake and barbecue were being held following a funeral for a slain associate of a local gang, authorities said.

Jones and several other people were arrested in the shooting. Two men were acquitted at trial.

“When Jones was arrested, he told police that he had been on the street in front of his house at the time of the shooting," said the Loyola statement. “But the most critical witnesses who could have attested to Jones’s alibi were not called to testify at trial, and he was convicted of two counts of murder, and four counts of attempted murder, along with multiple gun and gang enhancements."

Jones, 20, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

The Loyola Project for the Innocent said it obtained new statements from witnesses who said they saw Jones outside his home and that DNA testing showed he hadn't left a palm print on the car used in the shooting.

Faced with possibly retrying the case or requesting resentencing, the Kern County district attorney's office offered Jones the option of pleading to reduced charges without formally acknowledging guilt.

Jones accepted and on Sept. 2, he was resentenced to time served in prison after pleading no contest to two counts of voluntary manslaughter.

Jones wasn't found “factually innocent” and the district attorney's office still has confidence in the conviction but "doing a trial 22 years after the fact was going to be problematic,” Assistant District Attorney Joseph Kinzel told KGET-TV.