Trouble — we've all been in it. Some more than others. Some worse than others. Award-winning storyteller Shannon Cason has faced a few problems of his own. Now he talks with others about getting in, and out, of trouble of all stripes.
In episode 2 of The Trouble, Shannon talks with Richard Jones.
Richard was sentenced to 19 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Seventeen years in, he discovers he has a look-alike, with the same first name, who probably committed the crime.
Listen to the entire episode on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Here are some of the highlights.
Shannon Cason: On May 31, 1999 two men and a woman were cruising around Kansas City, Kansas looking to get high. They picked up a fourth person, named Rick, from a known crack house. He didn’t have drugs, but he knew how to get money for drugs.
They turned into a Walmart parking lot in Johnson County, Kansas. They circled the lot a few times. Rick saw a lady with a kid. And a purse. Rick jumped out of the car and snatched at the purse. The lady’s name was Tamara Scherer.
Tamara fought back against Rick and was able to keep her purse. But during the struggle, her cellphone came loose. Rick grabbed it, hopped back in the car, and sped away.
Tamara’s knees were scraped up from the fight, but other than that, she and her daughter were okay. The crime was classified as aggravated robbery.
Richard Jones on his arrest in Kansas City
Richard Jones: I can’t figure it out. I’m literally wracking my brain trying to figure out what they are talking about. Aggravated robbery? Nah. I had no idea where it came from. I didn't take it serious. There’s no way possible.
I felt like the truth was gonna come out. May 31, 1999 was Memorial Day. We BBQ’d two days in a row. I had alibi witnesses! Everyone knew where I was at.
Cason: What was the physical evidence against you?
Jones: None. Eyewitness testimony. No fingerprints, no security guard cameras, no DNA, none of that. Only eyewitness testimony.
On the photo lineup
Jones: The photo lineup was suggestive. But what else can [the witnesses] do? If the description [of the suspect] is a light-skinned black male or Mexican male with long hair, and I’m number one, and everyone else two to five ain’t even light-skinned and don’t even have long hair or anything. Of course, I’m gonna pick him! I felt like it was orchestrated.
On his conviction and sentencing
Jones: They read out their verdict and they found me guilty. I cried. I broke down and cried. Literally. That’s when reality set in.
The judge asked me if I had anything to say. I told them that I didn’t feel like this was justice. I told them that they had the wrong man and that he was making a mistake. He had the opportunity to give me the minimum, the middle, or the max. And he chose to give me the max. And that was 228 months. 19 years.
Cason: What were your thoughts at that moment?
Jones: I ain't had none.
Cason: Just a blank?
Jones: Yeah. I just got 19 years laid in my lap. Like here, it’s yours.
On discovering he has a doppelganger
Jones: Something like 15 years had passed. By that time, I had filed every type of appeal possible and was denied on all of them.
One of the guys I had got cool with, we just happened to be talking about my case one day. And he thought I was in there for murder! I was like, “Nah, man, I’m here for aggravated robbery,” and I broke my case down to him. The whole time I was talking, he just had his head down looking at the ground.
And when I finished talking, he lifted his head, and said, “Man, I know who did that.It’s a dude named Ricky Amos. You two look so much alike.”
I thought to myself, man this is crazy. When I saw the side angle of the dude and mine too, it was crazy. The same facial structure, hairlines, hair, everything. It just made sense to me.
That day, when I seen that man’s picture, everything fell off me. From anger to resentment. Everything. It all fell off me.
On getting exonerated after 17 years in prison
Jones: When I walked up in there, I had handcuffs on, and they had charged me with aggravated robbery. But now, I was walking out of there a free man. And they’re the guilty ones.
It was the first time meeting my granddaughter. That was one of the main things I was looking forward to. When I came in there I didn’t have any grey hairs, I came out, and I have grey hairs, and I look like a grandfather! She was the first person I picked up.
It was a beautiful experience. I felt the love, man. And I hadn’t felt that in a long time.
Jones: The way I look at it, if I hadn’t grew and matured, then it would have been all for nothing. And I refuse to let that all be for nothing. I took a negative and turned it into a positive.
Since I’ve been home it hasn’t all been happiness. I have my days. Because I’m starting over. From scratch. When I came home, I didn’t have clothes, nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
The [only] person I feel a certain way towards is Tamara Scherer [the victim and eyewitness]. How much does it take for her to say, “I would like to talk to him”? I don’t want anything from her but apology. I feel like she can at least try to get in contact with me and let me know that she made a mistake.
But I don’t hold any grudges. I’m not mad. Mad for what? I can’t get it back. I might as well say, “Hell man, I’m done.” But with me? I never give up. I’ve been through too much in my life to give up.
When I finally leave this earth, I want people, when they think about me, I don’t want them to think about something negative. I’ve always told myself, it’s up to me how many people come to my funeral. And I mean that.
Richard and Tamara did end up meeting. That’s in Doppelganger Part 2. Listen now.
These interview highlights have been edited for brevity and clarity by Candace Mittel Kahn.
Some of the music used in this episode comes from the album "Jules Lives" by Ari De Niro as found on FreeMusicArchive.org, has been adapted, and used here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 license.