BROCKTON — Darrell Jones walked out of a courthouse Thursday afternoon after his release on bail more than 30 years after being convicted for a murder he always maintained he didn’t commit.
The 50-year-old man left Brockton Superior Court, where he was found guilty in 1986 by an all-white jury and sentenced to to life without the possibility of parole.
Surrounded by friends and family, he thanked lawyers, family members, and reporters who investigated his case. He said he plans to fight for justice for others and prison rights.
“I stayed in prison a long time. It was hard to get people to hear you,’’ he said. “There is somebody else back in that jail that nobody is listening to that is probably innocent.
Jones was out of prison on $5,000 bail after Superior Court Judge Robert Cosgrove made the decision to release him on the original bail required when the then-18-year-old was first charged in the 1985 murder of alleged Cuban drug dealer Guillermo Rodriguez.
The hearing came days after a different Superior Court judge, Thomas F. McGuire Jr, vacated his conviction, ruling that the case was tainted by racial bias and misconduct. Jones is planning to move in with a Jesuit priest – whom he calls “Dad” — who has been serving as a friend and mentor for more than a decade.
“This is absolutely spectacular,’’ said Rev. William Barry who has secured a place, free of charge, in his religious retreat in a Boston suburb for Jones to live in for a year.
The Plymouth County District Attorney’s office opposed Jones’s release claiming it still had a strong case to either appeal McGuire’s decision or re-prosecute the case.
But Jones’s attorney, Lisa Kavanaugh, argued that her client is not a flight risk because he wants to stick around to prove his innocence — and he has a “strong likelihood of winning.”
She also argued that Jones has “an extraordinary amount of support” including Barry, a pro-bono therapist he has been talking to for years, as well as family.
Jones filed a motion to re-open his case in 2015 based on allegations that police tampered with a videotaped interview of a key witness shown at his trial to remove exculpatory evidence. He claimed the tape was key to his conviction because none of the eyewitnesses testified in court that they were sure Jones was the shooter.
Allegations of racial bias in the court were raised in a 2016 investigation by the the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and WBUR public radio. Juror Eleanor Urbati, a white Hingham resident who said she always regretted convicting Jones, told NECIR that two jurors had told her they thought the defendant was guilty because he was black.
McGuire, who now presides in Bristol County Superior Court, ruled on Jones’s motion because he was seated in Plymouth when the motion was first filed. He wrote that he first learned of allegations of racial bias when someone flagged the 2016 investigation and then requested Urbati and other jurors to detail what had occurred. The hearing came months after a US Supreme Court ruling that a trial judge must pry into typically secret discussions if there is evidence of racial bias.
Urbati, reached at home Thursday, said she was thrilled to hear about Jones’s release. “I’m very happy for him,’’ she said. “I told the truth.”
Jones’s sister, Classie Howard, 53, who flew in from Texas for the last-minute hearing, said she could hardly believe her brother was finally walking out of the same courthouse he was convicted in. She said she was thrilled about his release but angry about the pain her family suffered. “It started here and it ended here,’’ she said.
Jones spoke for a few minutes but was eager to get in a waiting car and leave Brockton.
“Keep the car warmed,” he said. “I want to get out of here.”
This story was co-published with the Boston Globe.