Seventy-four year-old Mary Virginia Jones was released from prison early Tuesday after serving 32 years for a 1981 murder committed by her then-boyfriend.
Jones was released from Lynwood County Jail for Women just after midnight and met smiling family members who walked with her to their car. When asked how she felt now that she was free, Jones joked, "I feel great. I’m just hungry."
Jones, also known as "Mother Mary," appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court Monday and asked a judge to exchange her first-degree murder conviction without possibility of parole for a no contest plea to voluntary manslaughter with a time-served sentence. The judge granted her request, but Jones had to wait hours before she could leave because of incomplete paperwork.
"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. "God does everything in His time. Not when I want Him to, but in His time."
Students from the USC Post-Conviction Justice Project challenged Jones’ conviction, claiming she would not have been convicted if the jury was allowed to hear expert testimony on the effects of "intimate partner battering."
According to a statement released by USC Gould School of Law, Jones was in an abusive relationship in 1981 with her then-boyfriend, Mose Willis.
Willis had Jones drive a car carrying two kidnapped drug dealers to a back alley in Los Angeles. He then shot at both men as Jones ran away.
"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," Heidi Rummel, co-director of USC’s Post-Conviction Justice Project, said in a statement.
Willis was later convicted of shooting both men and killing one of them. One week before the crime, Willis shot at Jones' daughter and threatened to kill them if they went to the police, according to the statement.
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Before the 1981 slaying, Jones owned a house in South LA, was a full-time teacher’s aide for LAUSD and an active member of her church.
Although only knowing each other a short time, she invited Willis, who was homeless at the time, into her home and church under the pretense that he wanted to "live a clean life," according to the statement.
Jones, an ordained minister in the Pentecostal faith, acted as the spiritual leader while imprisoned.
"I told (the inmates) to stay hopeful, to stay faithful, and to keep hope alive. Don’t give up. Fight watch and pray," Jones said. "I hate to leave them and I didn’t hate to leave them because they’re just like my babies, you know?"
Now that she’s free, Jones is able to reunite with her children and grandchildren.
Jones’ son Robert Jones Jr. had burst into song after his mother was ordered to be released from prison. Because he was convicted of a felony in 1979, he was not allowed to visit his mother in prison – and saw her for the first time in more than three decades on Monday when she appeared in court.
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"I’m looking forward to Mother’s Day this year so we can do it the right way," Jones’ daughter Denitra Jones-Goodie said. "I just don’t want her to have any stress or any harm or anything in life. I just want her to be comfortable and live out her days and doing the things she wanna do, and just be happy and I’m just ecstatic to have her home."
Jones says she plans to focus on her faith and pursue a full-time ministry role.
"My church family is my family also because they stood with me and they persevered with me and they prayed with me they encourage me for 32 years and how can I forget?" Jones said.