Mary Jones was in her early 40s when she went to prison. She was 74 when she was released from the Central Regional Detention Center in Lynwood, Cal., a suburb of Los Angeles, on March 24, after doing 32 years for first-degree murder.

Jones had been imprisoned in connection with the 1981 murder of a man who was fatally shot by her then-lover, Mose Willis. Willis died on California’s Death Row awaiting execution in the case. Jones was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in 1982.

In the 1981 crime, Jones said she was held at gunpoint and ordered to drive two men who Willis had kidnapped to an alley, where he shot them. One man died, another lived, according to information from the Post-Conviction Justice Project (PCJP) at the University of Southern California Law School. The PCJP utilizes students to work with inmates serving life sentences on murder convictions in California.

Jones, a mother and grandmother, told people assisting her that that she was intimidated into driving the car. At the time, she was a young mother who was active in her church and worked full time for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She had never been in trouble with the law, according to news reports.

In a court hearing March 24 broadcast on television in Los Angeles on KTLA, Jones, gentle-faced and grey-headed, used a magnifying glass to read a statement to a judge.

“I did not willingly participate in this crime, but I believe that entering a no contest plea is in my best interest to get out of custody,” she said. When he ordered her released, loved ones in the courtroom erupted in happiness.

“Halleluah!” one woman yelled. Bailiffs approached the woman and others and demanded that they quiet down.

Outside the courthouse, Jones’ daughter, Denetra Jones-Goodie, told reporters that the family was focusing on the positive.

“Nobody’s bitter, nobody’s angry,” Jones-Goodie said in a televised interview. “I’m just grateful at the fact that she’s being released and getting the chance to come home.”

Students working for the PCJP who worked on Jones’ case said she was manipulated by Willis because she suffered from Battered Women’s Syndrome. In a televised interview, Jones-Goodie said Willis had threatened her and her mother at gunpoint.

Two requests in two days for interviews with Jones and the students who helped her received no response from PCJP.


Zachary Lester

AFRO Staff Writer