In 1982, Mary Virginia Jones was convicted for participating in a murder. She was eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole and spent 32 years in prison until her miraculous release in March 2014.
In 1981, Jones’ boyfriend, Mose Willis, kidnapped two men in a violent drug deal. Later, he forced Jones to drive them to an alley, where he shot both men. Eventually, one of the men died and Jones went into hiding until her arrest.
Willis had a history of violent outbreaks. In fact, a week before the crime, he not only shot at Jones’ daughter, he also threatened to kill both of them if they contacted the police.
Lawyers for the prosecution argued that Jones was so enamored with Willis that she would have done anything to prove her love. At her first trial, she was convicted on several counts, including first-degree murder and robbery. The convictions were overturned on appeal. At the second trial the jury was deadlocked on all counts. At the end of her third trial, the jury convicted her on two counts of robbery. She was sentenced to 15 years to life then. Ultimately, the state retried her again and in 1987 Jones was convicted on the remaining charge of first-degree murder.
KTLA reports that, “Before the crime, Jones never had a run-in with the law, worked full time for the Los Angeles Unified School District as a teacher's aide and was raising her children.”
Jones’ case was taken up by the USC Law School's Post-Conviction Justice Project after she spent more than three decades in prison. The Los Angeles Times reports that, “[Heidi] Rummel oversaw USC law students Laura Donaldson and Mark Fahey who managed the case. Spurred by their work, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office conducted an independent investigation that led to an agreement to dismiss Jones' previous convictions. She would have to plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter, but would serve no more time or be on probation.”
Jones’ attorneys argued that, “she would not have been convicted if the jury had heard testimony on the effects of intimate partner battering, formerly known as battered women's syndrome.” Not only had Jones endured violence in her relationship with Willis, she had endured abuse from her parents and in other romantic relationships.
During her new trial, Jones read the following plea: “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.”
Known as “Mother Mary” by her fellow inmates and her family and friends, Jones was a model prisoner who worked as an ordained minister, led hymns, directed Bible services, and preached at the interfaith chapel.
After over 30 years in prison, Jones had missed out on many aspects of her loved ones lives. Her daughter Denitra Jones-Goodie got degrees in criminal justice and public policy and helped advocate for her mother's release. Jones’ son Robert had a felony conviction and was not allowed to visit his mother in prison. In fact, up until her release last week he had not seen his mother in 30 years.
According to KABC-TV in Los Angeles, Denitra Jones-Goodie reveals, “My mother never wavered on her belief of...her innocence and the fact that she never should have been in custody and the fact that she is being released today. She knew this day was coming.”