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Woman's release from prison surprises slaying victim's family

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Mary Virginia Jones' release from prison last week was cause for celebration. Family members and friends of the 74-year-old woman embraced and smiled through tears. Outside a Los Angeles courthouse, they laughed and posed for photos. They gave breathless interviews to a throng of reporters.

The sisters and children of Curtis Green, however, did not share their joy. They were shocked to learn from news reports that Jones — sentenced to life without parole — had been freed.

Green was 39 when he was shot and killed three decades ago. Although the gunman, Mose Willis, was convicted and later died on death row, Green's family has long believed that Jones played a key role.

"She didn't pull the trigger, but she might as well have," said Betty Green, the victim's sister.

Betty Green, a 63-year-old Inglewood resident, said family members were never contacted during the legal proceedings that led up to Jones' release.

"It wasn't right that we weren't notified," she said. "We should have been in court to give our opinion."

USC Law School's Post-Conviction Justice Project argued for years for Jones' release and cited a lifetime of physically and emotionally abusive relationships, including with Willis. Willis had been convicted of manslaughter, possession of a firearm and evading arrest before he began dating Jones. He once shot a gun at Jones and her daughter in their South Los Angeles home, according to court documents filed in support of Jones' release.

Jones' attorneys said Willis forced their client at gunpoint to rob Green and his friend Willie Pace on April 3, 1981. Both men were shot. Pace survived.

The convictions from Jones' first trial were overturned on appeal. The jury deadlocked on the second. In the third trial, Jones was convicted on the two counts of robbery. The state retried her again and in 1987, Jones was convicted on the remaining first-degree murder count. None of the four trials took into account her history as a battered victim.

Prompted by the justice project's work, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office conducted an independent investigation that led to the dismissal of Jones' previous convictions if she pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter. She walked out of a detention facility in Lynwood on March 24.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office said someone should have apprised the Green family about Jones' release. "Our policy is to identify and reach out to next of kin," Greg Risling said in a statement. "In this case that did not happen."

Heidi Rummel, the justice project's directing attorney, said that she welcomed a dialogue with the Green family but that it would have been inappropriate to contact them earlier.

"I certainly have a lot of empathy for this family that it had no heads up on this and it came out in such a public manner," Rummel said. "No one really wanted to cause them pain; that was certainly never anyone's intent. We're sorry that was a result of it."

Green is described as a drug dealer in court documents, a label that his family rebuts. A father of five, Green once worked for a tire company, his children said.

Reginald Green was a high school senior when his father died. "It was hard," the 50-year-old longshoreman from Harbor City recalled. "That father bond and the love of a father — that was just taken away from us too early."

It was difficult for him and his siblings to hear Jones commended last week for her work as an ordained minister in prison.

"She was supposed to get life without parole and they're praising her," said Garrett Sean Green, 47, of Riverside. "This is a lady who got my dad killed 32 years ago."

Although Curtis Green's family maintains that Jones played a main part in his death, they have no wish for her to return to prison.

"I just want it to be known that she wasn't that innocent in her ordeal," Betty Green said. "She's out so let her stay out, but she's gotta live with what she did."

corina.knoll@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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