Mary Virginia Jones (pictured) stepped out of the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, Calif., on Tuesday morning after serving 32 years for a crime she did not commit, according to CBS News.
Jones, now 74-years-old, had been serving a life sentence at the prison for her involvement in a murder that was actually committed by her then boyfriend, Mose Willis, in 1981. He was sentenced to death but died while awaiting his fate. A judged handed down a first-degree murder conviction for Jones as well as kidnapping and robbery convictions. She was sentenced to life without parole.
The Jones case happened 33 years ago when Willis, who was an abusive boyfriend, kidnapped two drug dealers and forced her to drive to an alley. Willis killed one of the dealers and shot the other who would survive. Jones managed to flee from the murder scene, but was arrested a few days later. Police investigators lumped her in as an accomplice to Willis’ murder.
During her trial, Jones maintained that she was forced to follow Willis’ demands or face death. She also maintained that her relationship with Willis had been one of abuse and that she was his personal punching bag. After four painstakingly long trials, a jury found Jones guilty.
Before meeting Willis, Jones had been an avid church goer and a teacher’s aide who had never been arrested. When she met Willis, he was homeless and Jones wanted to transform his life for the better. Just a week before the infamous shooting that would forever change her life, Willis had shot at Jones’ daughter, Denitra, and threatened to kill them both if the mother went to the police.
Jones or “Mother Mary,” as she is lovingly referred to by friends and family, was set free as a result of the efforts of University of California law professor Heidi Rummel and her law students who worked diligently with the California Institute for Women (CIW). CIW takes on cases that they believe have been unjustly tried in the court system. The students get to practice their future legal skills while folks behind bars receive representation that could result in their freedom. CIW’s process can be years long and quite arduous. But for people like Jones, it is a godsend.
For Mary, who went into prison as a young woman but who now comes out as a gray-haired grandmother, being vindicated and back with her family is all she’s lived for.