When Mary Virginia Jones was sentenced for murder Ronald Reagan was president, personal computer's were still in their infancy, and gas cost $1.25 a gallon. Today, after spending 32 years of her life left inside a cold, unforgiving concrete cell, "Mother Mary" as friends know her, is a free woman after students from USC's law school convinced the district attorney to reopen her case.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed to exchange Jones' first-degree murder conviction without possibility of parole for a no contest plea to voluntary manslaughter with a time-served sentence."Words cannot express my gratitude to God and to my fellow man," the 74-year-old Jones said after her release from Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood.
Jones and the students of USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project, argued that Mose Willis, her abusive boyfriend, forced her to participate in the 1981 murder.
Jones, drove the men to an alley where the crime was committed, and fled the scene before the murder took place. It took four trials, including a reversal on appeal and two hung juries, to convict Jones. Willis was convicted of kidnapping, robbing and shooting two men, killing one in Los Angeles.
"I did not willingly participate in this crime," Jones said in court. "But I believe that entering a no contest plea is in my best interest to get out of custody."
Jones' daughter, Denetra Jones-Goodie, who was 17 at the time her mother was arrested testified that days before the murders, Willis "threatened not only to kill me, but to kill her and anybody else that tried to help us. He pulled a gun on me and shot at me, and my mother witnessed that."
The law students argued that if the case had been heard today and jurors got to hear expert testimony about the abuse she suffered that Jones would have never been convicted.
"Courts now allow experts to testify about the effects of being battered," Heidi Rummel, co-director of USC’s Post-Conviction Justice Project, said in a statement to Yahoo News. "Willis forced Jones at gunpoint to participate in the robbery and kidnapping she ran down the alley fully expecting him to shoot and kill her, too."
Instead she was taken into custody and forced to pay for a crime she did not commit. The price was her freedom.