Louisiana Man Exonerated After 17 Years Incarcerated

Royal Clark Jr. has spent more than 17 years behind bars for an armed robbery he did not commit. The Louisiana man was exonerated on June 27 after newly-examined fingerprints cleared him of the 2001 crime.

The 42-year-old was wrongfully convicted of robbing a Terrytown Burger King on June 25, 2003, after a sole eyewitness misidentified him. He was sentenced to 49 and a half years in prison. Nearly two decades later, 24th Judicial District Court Judge Donnie Rowan Jr. vacated Clark’s conviction in a Jefferson Parish courtroom. “We all now know what he’s been saying all along, that he’s factually innocent of this crime which was committed by someone else,” said Clark’s attorney, Kia Hall Hayes, who works with the Innocence Project New Orleans (IPNO), according to NOLA.com. Hayes noted that a 10-2 jury initially convicted Clark on limited evidence, including the identification of him by a Burger King employee two months after the crime. “If the jury also knew that factors such as stress, the presence of a weapon, and the length of time between the crime and the identification can negatively impact the reliability of an identification, perhaps Mr. Clark’s wrongful conviction could have been prevented,” Hayes said. IPNO, which works to free those with wrongful convictions, requested a new fingerprint analysis. The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office did not oppose the request and Clark was eventually exonerated.

Fingerprints left on a cup at the crime scene matched those of Jessie Perry, who was convicted of robbing Family Dollar stores just two months after the Burger King heist. Clark’s case is similar to that of Baton Rouge’s Archie Williams, who was convicted of raping and stabbing a woman in 1983, The Advocate reported. After a new analysis of fingerprints, Williams was exonerated in March. “There is currently no clear law that gives prisoners a right to ask for these forensic database searches in cases not involving DNA,” IPNO said in a statement The Advocate cited. “If the (DA’s Office) had refused to re-examine and run the prints, Mr. Clark would likely have stayed in prison until he was 74 years old for a crime he did not commit.”

Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick said his office’s aim for justice does not always end in convictions. “When the evidence reveals an individual was wrongly convicted, my office will take action to correct that injustice,” he said in prepared remarks.Clark told reporters that he is not bitter about nearly two decades incarcerated. “If I let anger be my judgement, it will cloud my views on life,” he said on the steps of the Jefferson Parish Jail surrounded by his parents and teenage son, according to 4WWL.

“As I stand here before you, I can’t let the anger direct me. I can’t let my past dictate my future.”

His son, 17-year-old Royal Clark III, said that growing up without his father for nearly all his life was difficult. “My mama, she couldn’t always be there for me. She had to work. It was just me and my brother. Man, it was hard,” the younger Clark said, 4WWL reported. Clark told reporters he hopes to spend time with his family and friends after his release. He noted that he was excited to eat crawfish on his first day home. His family plans to celebrate his release and his 42nd birthday, which was on June 25, NOLA.com reported.“I just gotta take my time, one step at a time,” he told reporters. “All I can do is just stay prayed up. I love everybody.”

According to IPNO, 70 percent of the 363 DNA exonerations in the US involve mistaken eyewitness identifications. In Louisiana, 14 out of 15 DNA exonerations involved mistaken eyewitness identifications, including two men who had death sentences. Since 2001, IPNO has helped free or exonerate 35 people in Louisiana. Earlier in 2019, Louisiana lawmakers passed legislation that allowed experts to testify in criminal trials about the scientific research relating to eyewitness identifications, NOLA.com reported.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.