74-year-old Mary Virginia Jones has been released from Century Regional Detention Facility for Women in California after serving over 32 years behind bars for a 1981 double murder conviction.

A judge reduced her first-degree murder charge to voluntary manslaughter at a recent hearing.

“I thank God. I give Him all the glory and all the praise because if it weren’t for Him, I wouldn’t be out. He gave me a miracle. Isn’t that good?” Jones said after being released, “God does everything in His time. Not when I want Him to, but in His time.”

Her family and friends waited years for “Mother Jones”, as they call her, to be vindicated. Jones was convicted in the 1981 double murder until law students at USC’s Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCPJ) intervened to assist in reopening the investigation. PCPJ often assists inmates in getting their cases re-reviewed by courts who may have missed evidence. As part of a plea agreement with the prosecution, Jones entered a no contest plea, meaning she maintains her innocence, to voluntary manslaughter.

The USC students argued that Jones would not have been convicted if expert evidence about Battered Person Syndrome or Intimate Partner Battering was allowed during the trial. At the time of the murders, Jones was involved in an abusive relationship with Moses Willis, a man she took into her home because she believed he wanted to turn his life around.

Jones was held at gunpoint by Willis and ordered to drive two kidnapped people to an alleyway where they were murdered by Willis. Jones fled the scene as Willis committed the murders believing that she was next. A week before the murders, Willis had attempted to shoot Jones and her daughter and threatened their lives if they reported him to the police. Jones was arrested a few days later hiding at a friend’s house.

Jones was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole in 1982 after four trials, including a reversal on appeal because the court failed to instruct the jury correctly and excluded evidence necessary to her “duress” defense and two hung juries.

Students at USC’s PCJP investigated the case and challenged her conviction because her jury did not hear the effects of partner battering. The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office conducted their own independent investigation and agreed to set aside the conviction in exchange for a no contest plea to voluntary manslaughter

“Mr. 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,” said Heidi Rummel, co-director of  USC’s Post-Conviction Justice Project.

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Before her conviction, Jones (above) owned a home in South L.A., worked as a full-time teacher’s aide in the L.A. Unified School District, and was an avid church goer. She met Willis only months before the crime when he was homeless. Willis professed his desire to “live a clean life”, so Jones introduced him to her church and her home.

USC law students, Laura Donaldson and Mark Fahey worked on Jones’ case for several years.

“The procedural history of Mary’s case gave me a greater appreciation for the pitfalls of the justice system,” said Donaldson,  “After first learning that it took four trials to convict Mary, I was shocked and even more motivated to get her out of prison. I am so happy that Mary will finally get the justice she deserves and be able to go home to her family after serving 32 years for crimes for which she should never have been convicted.”

Since Jones served 21 years more than the maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter in California (11 years), she was released with time served.

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One woman shouted “Hallelujah!” at the hearing.

Jones read her plea in court: “I did not willingly participate in this crime, but I believe entering a no contest plea is in my best interest to get out of custody.”

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