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Woman Released From Prison After Serving 32 Years For Murder Her Abusive Boyfriend Committed

(Photo by sergign via Shutterstock.)
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A 74-year-old woman has been released from prison after serving 32 years for a murder that her abusive boyfriend forced her to participate in back in 1981.

A judged ruled today that Mary Virginia Jones known as "Mother Mary" can be released from prison and she's expected to be released later today, according to City News Service. Jones said she "did not willing participate in this crime" but she pleaded no-contest to voluntary manslaughter charges in exchange for time served. She had served 32 years after being convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery.

USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project took up her case, and said that Jones never should have been convicted. USC law students Laura Donaldson and Mark Fahey worked on the case for several years. Donaldson said in a statement, "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."

Jones had been a model citizen before she started dating Mose Willis (who has since passed away on death row). She worked full-time as a teacher's aide, she owned her own home and was very involved in her church. She had never been arrested. She met Willis just months before the crime. At the time, he was homeless but he said that he wanted to "live a clean life." She invited him to live with her, and she took him to church.

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Months later Jones was charged in the shootings of two drug dealers. Willis had kidnapped two drug dealers and ordered Jones to drive to a back alley with the dealers at gunpoint. Willis shot both men, and Jones fled the scene. She hid out at a friend's house until she was arrested a few days later. It took four trials to convict Jones, but she was eventually convicted of first-degree murder without the possibility of parole in 1982.

Jones' conviction was overturned because the jury at the time wasn't able to hear expert testimony on the effects of what is now referred to as "intimate partner battering." Just a week before the crime, Willis fired a shot at Jones' daughter Denitra and threatened to kill both of them if they went to police. Heidi Rummel, co-director of USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project, said in a statement that Jones wasn't a willing participant in the murder: "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."

Jones' family and church community came out to celebrate her release today:

Denitra Jones said in a statement, "It has not been the same for any of us, me in particular, since my mother has been gone. I really felt as though I had lost a part of my being."

(Eds. note: a previous version of this post says that both men shot died—in fact, two men were shot and one was killed. The post and headline has been corrected.)