Wearing a huge smile on his face and holding a simple duffle bag in his hands, Lebrew Jones walked out of the Queensboro Correctional Facility Thursday morning a free man.
Jones who was released on parole after spending the last 22 years in prison for a crime he says he did not commit then hugged his brother and called his mother.
“It feels like a dream come true,” Jones said.
Jones was convicted of the 1989 sexual assault and murder of teenage prostitute Michealanne Hall, from Buffalo. It was a brutal and bloody crime. Hall was found beaten to death with a rock at a construction site where Jones worked as a security guard. The crime scene was littered with physical evidence – none of which was linked to Jones. Still, he was convicted and sentenced 22 years to life in prison.
Jones recently appeared before a parole board in recent weeks and told his story – how police interrogated him for 20 hours. How he wrote multiple statements of what happened the night of the crime. Most versions denied his involvement.
He told the board that police told him to say he saw her so that he could finally go home. Finally, Jones says he concocted a story that he saw Michaelanne Hall commit suicide.
In a videotaped interview with an assistant DA, Jones says, “she picked up a large mini rock or something and tried to take blows to her head.”
The jury saw that video and thought he was lying about the suicide -- then convicted him of murder.
Jones’ release today is thanks, in part, to the efforts of former Times Herald Record reporter Christine Young, who as a young journalism student 20 years ago covered the crime Jones was accused of committing.
“My suspicions were aroused that he was innocent after conversations with a police officer and a witness,” Young said outside the correctional facility Thursday. “I tried to do something about it at the time and he got convicted anyway.”
She eventually moved away – her journalism career brought her to cities around the county – but she always thought about Lebrew Jones. Young started digging into the case again when she moved back to Orange County and discovered she lived near the Otisville Prison where Jones was incarcerated.
Her newspaper articles and mini documentaries posted on the web, helped attract the Innocence Project and a Manhattan law firm which agreed to represent Jones pro-bono.
Jones will stay at a half way house in Harlem while on parole. He and his attorneys now have to decide whether to petition the court to vacate his conviction.
In the meantime he is hoping to revive his budding career as a jazz musician. He wants to go to the beach. And more than anything he wants to get reacquainted with his family.
On the phone with his mother this morning he said, “This is a happy day guys.”