LOS ANGELES (AP) — A 74-year-old California woman is free after serving 32 years of a life sentence for her role in a 1981 killing.
Mary Virginia Jones walked out of Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood around 11 p.m. Monday and was met by joyful family and friends, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Jones was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery and sentenced to life without parole for a killing committed alongside boyfriend Mose Willis, who died while on death row.
She always maintained that the abusive Willis forced her at gunpoint to help him rob and shoot two drug dealers, one of whom died. Law students at the University of Southern California's Post-Conviction Justice Project took up her cause.
Jones expected to be shot and killed and the subsequent trials did not take into account her history as a battered victim, the justice project's directing attorney, Heidi Rummel, told the Times.
Los Angeles County prosecutors conducted a new investigation and agreed to accept a plea of no contest for involuntary manslaughter.
Judge William C. Ryan ruled Monday afternoon that Jones had served well over the 11-year maximum sentence for the lesser crime and ordered her freed.
"Hallelujah!" shouted one woman who began to sob after the judge issued his ruling.
Jones, using a magnifying glass to help her see, read her plea in court Monday: "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."
Deputy District Attorney Hyman Sisman said he would not comment on the investigation except to say "justice was done."
Jones' daughter, 53-year-old Denitra Jones-Goodie, told the newspaper her mother always believed that someday she would be released.
"She's got strength on top of strength," she said.