Mary Virginia Jones was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery in 1981 and sentenced to life without parole for a killing committed alongside then-boyfriend and abuser Mose Willis.
Willis allegedly kidnapped two men and ordered Jones at gunpoint to drive a car to a back alley in Los Angeles, where Willis shot the men. Jones ran and was arrested a few days later. Willis was arrested, and later died while awaiting execution on death row.
Law students at USC's Post-Conviction Justice Project recently challenged her case. They argued she would not have been convicted if the jury had heard expert testimony about the impact of intimate partner battering.
"She ran down the alley fully expecting him to shoot and kill her too," said Heidi Rummel, co-director of the USC justice project and the supervising defense attorney on the case.
Jones was a churchgoing woman who worked as a teacher's aide and had never been arrested before the 1981 crime, her lawyers said. She met Willis, who was homeless, and took him in because he told her that he wanted to clean up his life.
A week before the crime, Willis shot at Jones' daughter Denitra and threatened to kill them if they went to the police, according to officials with the USC project.
Los Angeles County prosecutors conducted an independent investigation of her case and agreed to accept a plea of no contest for involuntary manslaughter.
On Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Ryan said that Jones had already served 11,875 days, well in excess of the 11-year maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter and granted her freedom.
On Tuesday, Jones was greeted by friends and family outside the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood. The atmosphere was filled with tears of joy and laughter.
Jones said she is thankful for her release and not bitter about the 32 years she spent behind bars.
"It feels great. I'm just so thankful and so grateful, words can never express how I feel right now to be with my little grandbabies," said Jones.
Her daughter Denitra said she couldn't wait to spend time with her mom.
"I'm just looking forward to doing Mother's Day the way that it's supposed to be done, and just taking care of my mother, you know," said Denitra. "I just don't want her to have any stress or any hurt or harm or anything in her life, I just want her to be comfortable and live out her days by doing the things that she wanna do, and just be happy. I'm just ecstatic to have her home."
Jones said she looked forward to barbecuing with her family. She also plans to join a ministry and spend lots of time with her grandchildren.
The Associated Press and CNS contributed to this report.