What's it like to spend almost a decade in jail for a crime you didn't commit? Unfortunately, Royal Clark Jr. can tell you.
Royal was released from New Orlean's Jefferson County Jail, and all it took was a study of fingerprints. The now 42-year-old walked free on Thursday (June 27) due to an overturned 49-year conviction. Regardless of how long he was held, Clark admitted prison was not going to get the best of him.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie and tell you I didn’t [give up hope].”
“I can’t let anger direct me,” Clark said. “I can’t let my past be my future.”
In 2002, a Burger King armed robbery led authorities to arrest Clark based on an unreliable eyewitness testimony from the food chain's worker two months AFTER the event. Turns out, that's all NOLA police needed to send the innocent man to waste 17 years of his life. The Innocence Project of New Orleans took it upon themselves to advocate for the felon who's proclaimed his wrongful conviction from day one. After urges to properly re-examine evidence left at the crime scene with updates to technology, it was finally noted that Royal was not their man.
So where did this life-changing evidence come from? The perp apparently let his literal thirst for crime take over and drank from a cup he left before robbing the restaurant. That's when investigators got re-acquainted with a familiar face: Jessie Perry. Perry, coincidentally, was already serving time for a bunch of similar previous crimes.
The new revelation shed light on the urgency for the justice system to be more proactive against future incorrect arrests. Emily Maw, an IPNO attorney stated:
“There is currently no clear law that gives prisoners a right to ask for these forensic database searches in cases not involving DNA. Mr. Clark’s exoneration has provided a second example in three months of the need for the Louisiana Legislature or the Louisiana Supreme Court to create a clear legal right for prisoners to access forensic databases in appropriate cases so that truth can prevail.”
I think we speak for everyone when we say, "Welcome home, Royal!" Watch the family's heartwarming reunion below.
Photo & Video: Innocence Project New Orleans Facebook