A Lake County judge on Tuesday ordered the release of an ailing man who has spent the past 18 years in prison for a child molestation he is no longer believed to have committed.
Luther Jones, 71, will go free because his accuser last week recanted the story she told police when she was 10 years old.
The woman, now 30, told Lake County District Attorney’s Office investigators she had lied at the behest of her mother, who at the time was battling Jones — her former boyfriend — over custody of their 2-year-old daughter.
“We want to get (Jones) released as soon as possible,” said Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson, who petitioned the court for Jones’ release soon after the woman approached his office.
Jones had nine years left on his 27-year sentence. He was being held at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton because he’s seriously ill, Anderson said. Last year, he petitioned for early release on medical grounds but was denied.
“Hopefully he lives long enough to enjoy some freedom at the end of his life,” said attorney Angela Carter, who represented Jones at Tuesday’s court hearing.
The woman told investigators she was molested by another one of her mother’s boyfriends. Anderson said he plans to investigate the old case and potentially could bring charges against Elizabeth Woods for allegedly coercing her daughter to lie. He also wants to question her former boyfriend, who could also face charges.
“It’s a matter of whether we can prove a case on him,” Anderson said.
During his 1998 trial, Jones alleged Woods was making up the molestation because he’d recently been granted custody of their child. A woman also testified at trial that Woods had told her she would put Jones in jail to prevent him from gaining custody of their child.
Woods potentially could face charges of subornation of perjury, he said.
Anderson said it’s not uncommon for people locked in custody disputes to make up lies about each other.
“It happens way too often,” he said. Usually, authorities can spot the lies, Anderson said.
Jones himself was no saint. He had a prior criminal record that included offenses for thefts and drugs, Anderson said. He also had spent six months in jail for a domestic abuse case involving Woods, according to court documents.
“He’d been in and out of trouble for quite a while,” Anderson said. But none of the cases against him involved sexual offenses. And he certainly should not have spent time in prison for something he did not do, Anderson said.
Because Jones is ill, Anderson said he’s not sure exactly when he will be discharged. He was hoping it would be by the end of the day Tuesday.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson @pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter