Screams of joy from the
family of Mary Jones. On Monday, the judge declaring she was a free woman...
after spending the last 32 years in prison.
Mary was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for her
involvement in a double murder in 1981. Her family insisted she was innocent,
but she would have died in prison if it hadn't been for USC's "Post
Conviction Justice Project". Mary is now home reunited with her family.
Heidi Rummel is a law professor at USC. She and her students work closely with
the California Institute for Women, taking on cases where they believe there's
been injustice... that's how they came across Mary's case. It's a chance for
law students to learn how to be lawyers, while those behind bars get
representation they would otherwise not have access to.
Unfortunately, there are many others who have fallen through the cracks of the
justice system. Post Conviction Justice Project has helped free several other
It's a long process, it takes many years and lots of dedication... But in the
end, to see people like Mary back home with family, a reunion more than three
decades in the making… it's all worth it.
(FOX 11 / AP) A 74-year-old woman who served 32 years for a murder committed by her abusive boyfriend, who forced her to participate in the crime, was released from the Lynwood facility just before 1:00am Tuesday morning.
Mary Virginia Jones, known as "Mother Mary'' to family and friends, was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in a fatal shooting in 1981. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan today set aside her earlier convictions and sentenced her to time served in exchange for a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter.
However, prison paperwork prevented Jones from celebrating with her family tonight. A representative of USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project, who handled Jones' case, said she expected Jones would go home tomorrow.
The gunman in the murder was Mose Willis, who kidnapped two drug dealers and forced Jones at gunpoint to drive a car to an alley where he shot them, according to law students at USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project. One man died and the other survived.
"She ran down the alley fully expecting him to shoot and kill her too,'' said Heidi Rummel, co-director of the USC justice project and the supervising defense attorney on the case.
Jones was a churchgoing woman who worked as a teacher's aide and had never been arrested before the 1981 crime, her lawyers said. She met Willis, who was homeless, and took him in because he told her that he wanted to clean up his life.
A week before the shooting, Willis shot at Jones' daughter, Denitra, and threatened to kill the two women if they went to the police, defense attorneys said.
Willis was sentenced to death for the murder and died while awaiting execution on death row, according to USC spokeswoman Gilien Silsby. Denitra was in the courtroom today, along with more than a dozen other family members and friends, as her mother was brought in with her hands cuffed behind her back, wearing blue jail clothes. USC law students Laura Donaldson and Mark Fahey worked for years to free Jones and said she never should have been convicted. Jones had been through four trials, including two with hung juries and a reversal on appeal, because the court failed to properly instruct the jury and excluded evidence of Jones's duress defense.
The District Attorney's Office independently investigated the case and agreed in advance to accept a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for Jones' release.
"I did not willingly participate in this crime,'' Jones told Ryan, but "entering a no contest plea is in my best interest.''
Ryan noted that Jones had already served 11,875 days, well in excess of the 11-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter.
"The court orders the defendant released forthwith,'' Ryan said, prompting tears, cheers, singing and a shout of "Thank you, Jesus'' from those assembled.
"Your honor, can I take my mother home?'' Denitra asked just before her mother was escorted back to a holding cell by a sheriff's deputy. "Words cannot express the way I feel,'' Denitra said outside the courtroom, still hopeful at that time that her mother would be home for dinner.
"It's surreal ... this is a day we've been waiting for all our lives.''
From Susan Hirasuna:
It was a momentous morning for family and friends of 74 year old Mary Jones. They screamed and thanked Jesus when the Judge declared Jones' sentence served and she should "be released forthwith." Jones had agreed to a voluntary manslaughter conviction in place of murder. But forthwith turned into frustration. By the evening, it was clear that Jones would remain in her prison blues and in custody.
Her attorney, Heidi Rummel fully expected that Jones would have walked out of the courtroom a free woman, but instead, her release was caught up in paperwork. The California Institute for Women needed to run a rap sheet and count the number of days served.
That was maddening to her daughter, Denitra Jones-Goodie who said, "She don't need to be going through this. You know, the thing is, the judge ruled 11 years, she's already done 32, so what is there to calculate."
Indeed, Jones' release was a long time coming. She was convicted in 1982 for participating in the murders of two men. But the jury never heard about the man who forced her to help him.
He shot the men and threatened Jones, he'd kill her and her daughter if she ever told police.
USC law students, working with the USC Post Conviction Justice Project helped bring Jones' release. They say, there are alot of Mary Jones in prison; women who were intimidated and or battered into participating in violent crimes.
The extra day's wait was particularly crushing for Jones' son, Robert. He hasn't seen his mother for 35 years. Because of a felony conviction, he was never allowed to visit his mom in prison. He cried at the thought he'd finally get to hold his mother and he sang his praises to God.
Jones-Goodie said, that the sheriff's at the Lynwood Jail promised to do what they could to expedite her mother's release. They planned to help her dress and as soon as word came through she was free, she'd be ready to walk out the jail doors.
When she finally is the warm embrace of her family, they'll take her to her godmother's home to enjoy a celebratory meal of oxtails, collard greens and candied yams. It was ready to be served Monday night, but now, if all goes as planned, Mary Jones will be enjoying family, friends and that meal Tuesday.