For the first time in more than three decades, a 74-year-old grandmother --who was convicted years ago for a murder she did not willingly commit -- has the chance to enjoy a Mother’s Day with her family outside the walls of prison.
Mary Virginia Jones celebrated the special day ahead of schedule Friday afternoon at the USC Gould School of Law, where she was reunited with the professor and group of law students who worked to set her free.
"I'm thankful," Jones said, after exchanging hugs and greetings. "I thank them and I thank God for using them."
Jones was convicted of first-degree murder without the possibility of parole in 1982 for the slaying of a kidnapped drug dealer.
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Students from USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project challenged Jones' conviction, revealing that she was in an abusive relationship with her then-boyfriend. Students claim he threatened to kill her if she did not partake in a robbery and kidnapping.
Jones said the worst part about her time served was being away from her family, but she used the time to build her faith and help others behind bars do the same.
Jones' daughter, Denitra Jones-Goodie, joined her at the USC event. She said she was grateful for the opportunity to finally enjoy a Mother's Day outside the confines of prison, and she's excited for Jones to spend time with grandchildren.
"We'll be able to cook her some really good food -- as opposed to the chicken she used to eat out of the machine," Jones-Goodie said.
A former LAUSD teacher’s aide, Jones served 32 years of time. But after decades of never giving up hope -- as well as some help from USC’s Post-Conviction Justice Project -- Jones was released from Lynwood County Jail for Women on March 25.
The law group claimed that Jones would not have been convicted if the jury had been allowed to hear expert testimony on the effects of “intimate partner battering.” Jones’ ex-boyfriend was later convicted of shooting two men and killing one.
Jones asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to exchange her first-degree murder conviction for a no-contest plea to voluntary manslaughter with a time-served sentence.
“The procedural history of Mary's case gave me a greater appreciation for the pitfalls of the justice system,” USC law student Laura Donaldson said in a statement earlier in the year.
“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.”