(Photo: Screen Grab/FOX 11)
After serving 32 years in prison for a crime her family says she did not commit, 74-year-old Mary Jones was released from the Lynwood Women's facility in California last Tuesday, and has declared that she doesn't harbor any bitterness for her incarceration.
"I don't have a reason to be bitter, God is my shepherd," said Jones, who is known as "Mother Mary" to family and friends, on her release Tuesday.
A judge had pronounced her a free woman in court a day earlier to screams of joy from her family, who according to FOX 11, thanked Jesus for her release.
According to the report, Jones was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for her role in a 1981 double murder despite insistence from her family that she is innocent.
The University of Southern California's Post-Conviction Justice Project said the gunman in the case was Mose Willis. He kidnapped two drug dealers then forced Jones to drive him to an alley where he shot both of them. One of them survived.
"She ran down the alley fully expecting him to shoot and kill her too,'' said Heidi Rummel, co-director of Justice Project and supervising defense attorney on the case.
Before her conviction Jones was described as a churchgoing woman who worked as a teacher's aide. She had never been arrested before the 1981 crime. When she met Willis, he was homeless and she took him in and tried to clean him up but she failed.
A week before the shooting, Willis has shot at Jones' daughter, Denitra, and threatened to kill them both if they went to the police, according to defense attorneys.
Willis was sentenced to death and died while he was on death row.
The District Attorney's Office independently investigated the case after the Justice Project presented arguments on why Jones should not have been convicted and agreed in advance to accept a plea of no contest to voluntary manslaughter in exchange for Jones' release.
"I did not willingly participate in this crime,'' Jones told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan, but "entering a no contest plea is in my best interest.''
Ryan said Jones had already served well in excess of the 11-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter.
"The court orders the defendant released forthwith,'' Ryan said. Her family shed tears, cheered, sang and shouted "Thank you, Jesus."