Convicted of a double homicide, Bobby Joe Ledbetter faces life in a small cell in the hot Arizona desert… until he identifies as innocent.
Florence, Arizona – Robert Joseph Ledbetter never expected to get out of jail. After being convicted for two counts of bloody ax murder in the slayings of an elderly couple who who were driving too slow in the fast lane of the Superstition Highway, the Spokane, Washington native believed he would spend the rest of his days in prison.
“I ain’t had no money,” said the convict, whose friends call him Bobby Joe. “When you don’t got no money, you ain’t beating a rap like that, no way.”
Not only was Ledbetter flat broke, but he had no legal representation to file an appeal, nor did he have the know-how to do so himself. The outlook seemed grim; he would rot in a cell in the Eyman facility of the Arizona penitentiary system. But recent events have brought new life to Bobby Joe’s case, and next week he will walk out of the prison a free man.
“It’s amazing, is what it is,” he said. “Never thought I’d eat a McDouble again, or get wasted on Keystone Light, or watch My LIttle Pony.”
What miracle is seeing Mr. Ledbetter set free from his chains?
“I saw this dude, Bruce, on the TV,” Bobby Joe said. “Calls himself Caitlyn now. Figured if he could do it – or she, or whatever – I could, too.”
Due to a loophole in Arizona law and the recent emphasis on self-identification, Robert Joseph Ledbetter’s decision to identify as innocent is opening the doors of the prison in Florence. But the formerly-guilty convict couldn’t just claim to be not guilty. Rather, legal interpretation requires he hold a sincere and deeply-held belief in his innocence, and this belief must be corroborated by a panel of psychologists.
“Mr. Ledbetter holds a strong conviction of his own innocence,” Arizona Department of Corrections commissioner Charles L. Ryan claimed. “Think of that as a safeguard. We can’t have an ax murderer who still identifies himself as guilty slip through the cracks, can we?”
Of course, not everyone who identifies as something other than they previous were gets such a pass. Earlier this summer Rachel Dolezal lost her job at the NAACP chapter in Ledbetter’s hometown because she was a white woman identifying as a black woman. Bobby Joe is convinced it is because her belief in her own definition was not strong enough. After all, in a society claiming to rebuild itself on the ideals of self-definition, what other explanation could there be?
“I feel bad for her, I do,” Ledbetter said in a recent interview, “but she ain’t what she says she was, ’cause she don’t really think it’s what she is. That’s the only thing I can come up with.”
TLC has already approached Ledbetter about a reality show starring the ex-con, entitled Innocent Convictions, in which Bobby Joe will date women for weeks at a time before “identifying as single” as a means of surprise break up. It should be a real ratings grabber.