74-year-old woman, to be released from prison after 32 years of being wrongly convicted of first-degree murder. Mary Virginia Jones has spent nearly half of her natural life behind bars for kidnapping, robbery and murder charges that turns out, she may not be responsible for. Further investigation by the Post Conviction Justice Project at the University of Southern California, suggest that the crimes were committed by Jones’ boyfriend who forced Jones’ participation.
Allegedly Jones was driving the car for her boyfriend, Mose Willis, who kidnapped two suspected drug dealers, then robbing and shooting both men in an alley, in 1981. One of the men was killed. Willis was convicted and received a death sentence for his part in the act. He died later on death row, awaiting execution. Jones was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole and has went on to serve over three decades of incarceration before she finally arrived to the deciding day of her freedom after her case was picked up by the Post-Conviction Justice Project.
Workers on the project suggested that Jones’ participation in these crimes was forced, and that Willis gave the woman no choice in the matter when he demanded that she drive in to an alley before he open fired on the two men held captive.
Co-director and head defense attorney on the case, Heidi Rummel has stated that Jones, ran away from Willis, down the alley “fully expecting him to shoot her too.” Also just days prior to the kidnapping and killing, Willis fired his gun at Jones’s daughter and threatened to kill her and her mother, if they tried to contact authorities.
The defense team submitted their findings to the court, inspiring a California Supreme Court Judge to “set aside” the earlier convictions. Judge William Ryan has agreed to allow Jones to work with the district attorney’s office in the matter of her early release.
An agreement has been reached with Jones, and she is entering a plea of no contest to the charges of voluntary manslaughter, which is said to have been accepted by the district attorney. Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 11 years, which Jones has already served nearly three times over. Jones has always expressed that she did not “willingly” participate in the crimes, and that she and her daughter feared Willis, and believed he was capable of killing them as he had previously threatened.
However these tragic events took place on that frightful day in 1981, there seems to be no plans on behalf of the courts to completely exonerate the woman from all charges. Jones may or may not believe she is guilty of the voluntary manslaughter charge, however an opportunity to spend the rest of her days outside prison walls, some speculate, has outweighed any other option.
For a woman who may have been wrongly convicted and now finally released from prison after 32 years, Jones, who is now 74, well into her senior citizen years, must now find a way to adapt to “life on the outside,” in a changed society, which has far advanced from the days of 1981.
By, Aaron Thompson