On Thursday, Tyrone Jones was on the 28th floor of a building for the first time.
He gazed out of large windows in a conference room of the law firm Cozen O’Connor in Center City and took in a skyline that has been dramatically transformed since May 1973, when police arrested him in connection with a murder he said he never committed.
During four decades in prison, he fought for his release with the help of his attorneys.
“I had a lot to lose if I would have just gave up,” said Jones, 59, who has a calm and quiet demeanor. “But I didn’t give up. I didn’t want to disappoint them. I didn’t want to disappoint my family. And most of all, I didn’t want to disappoint myself.”
Countless times, Jones said, he met with his legal team in prison, hoping his freedom wasn’t too far away.
“A lot of time, when they would come visit me, they’d said, ‘One day, you’re gonna walk out with us, one day you’re gonna walk out with us,'” Jones said. “And, lo and behold, Sept. 1st, I walked out with them.”
Back in 1973, Jones was arrested in connection with a murder in North Philadelphia.
“Tyrone is a 16-year-old boy, was under police interrogation. He was told he could go home to his mother if he would just provide a statement. He provided a statement,” said his pro-bono attorney Hayes Hunt.
Jones has long maintained his innocence. The written confession, which was the most damning evidence against him at trial, was coerced, Jones’ attorneys said.
Although his murder conviction remains, Jones was released because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that found automatically sentencing a teenager to life without the possibility of parole amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, a ruling that the high court later applied retroactively.
In June, Jones was one of the first inmates to be resentenced by Common Pleas Court Judge Lillian Ransom, who is presiding over the juvenile-lifer resentencing hearings.
In a deal with the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, Jones was resentenced to 35 years to life for his first-degree murder conviction. His 43 years of incarceration were applied to his sentence, triggering his release.
While his legal team works on a way to clear his conviction, Hunt said Jones is ready to transition into society. He plans on moving to Jackson, North Carolina, to live with his sister.
“He has jobs waiting for him. He has churches waiting for him. He has priests. He has support groups. He has a community college where he can enroll in,” Hunt said. “He is fully prepared to continue on in his life in bettering himself.”
Noelle Price-El, Jones’ niece, celebrated her uncle’s freedom Thursday with her 9-month-old son, YahYa.
“It’s a joyous day,” Price-El said. “To know that the uncle was basically someplace where he didn’t belong is now here, and he can interact with the children and the rest of the family. It’s a blessing.”
Nearly 300 other inmates in Philadelphia sentenced to life in prison for murder convictions are still awaiting hearings that could, for some, pave the way to freedom.