After decades behind bars, Philly man has reason to hope

The life of a Philadelphia man who’s been in prison since 1975 could change dramatically. Seizing on last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders, 56-year-old Tyrone Jones is petitioning to be released.

Jones has lived behind bars for nearly four decades since his conviction of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the shooting in North Philadelphia when he was 16.

 

Pennsylvania Innocence Project legal director Marissa Bluestine said she questions Jones’ guilt.

“The gun that he had could not have expelled the bullet that killed the victim. It’s not possible,” said Bluestine. “That’s one of the main (reasons) we know he was not involved in that murder.”

After a pressured interrogation, Jones admitted to the killing. He later retracted the confession, Bluestine said. She said the Pennsylvania Innocence Project has filed petitions asking for a new trial based on new eyewitness statements, and the organization is hoping the high court’s ruling will speed up Jones’ release.

Bluestine said she’s pleased with the decision but wishes the Supreme Court had given states more guidance on how to deal with lifers who have already spent decades behind bars.

“There are 480 people we have and the hundreds of others across the country who’ve already been sentenced. Does that opinion apply back to the people who were already sentenced or not?

“And that is the key issue that we’re going to have to struggle with here in Pennsylvania,” Bluestine said.

Advocates for the imprisoned man believe the request is the first filed since the high court’s decision.

Bluestine said the Pennsylvania Innocence Project plans to file petitions on behalf of three other clients in similar situations.

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