It was a moment nearly 32 years in the making.
After an hour of arguments from his defense attorney and counter-arguments from the Plymouth County prosecutor, Darrell Jones was set free, on bail, by Superior Court Judge Robert Cosgrove.
Jones, who was in prison for 32 years for a crime he always said he didn't commit, was released on $5,000 bail — the same amount set in 1985 when Jones was 18, arrested for the killing of an alleged Brockton drug dealer.
He was later tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Jones had refused to cut a deal with the Plymouth district attorney, and had always insisted he did not commit the murder.
During his trial, the prosecution showed no motive, no physical evidence. None of the eyewitnesses could identify Jones in court.
Jones was also the subject of a special investigative series from WBUR and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.
He appealed three times, and was denied a new trial each time. Earlier this year, his defense team got a hearing based on new evidence that led to the bail hearing, and his release.
Attorney Neil Austin of Foley Hoag worked on Jones' case pro bono for three years.
"I don't see much of an appeal from the commonwealth and don't see much an opportunity to retry the case in any meaningful way given Judge McGuire's decision," he said.
Earlier in the week, Plymouth County Superior Court Judge Thomas McGuire ruled after a series of evidentiary hearings that Jones hadn't gotten a fair trial, that the all-white jury was tainted by racial bias. One juror testified that during deliberations another juror said Jones was guilty because he was black.
McGuire also ruled that the lead Brockton investigator in the murder case had lied in court about a crucial piece of evidence. It was a damning judicial decision that cast doubt on everything the detective said and did in the case.
The judge described the retired detective as "damaged goods," but Plymouth County ADA Richard Linahand insisted the detective would still make a credible witness. He said the prosecution had a strong case, and that Jones should stay in prison awaiting a new trial.
It was a losing argument.
He's not sure they're going to retry Jones.
"It's too early to tell. We haven't had a chance to evaluate the state of the case," said Linahand.
'I Was Hoping He'd Want Lobster'
Classie Howard, Jones' sister, was at Thursday's hearing, along with family members and friends, all sitting in the same courtroom where Jones was convicted 30 years ago.
She was overjoyed at her brother's release. What's their next step?
"First, I have to find out what he want(s)... I was hoping he'd want lobster. That's just my hope," she said, laughing.
Jones came down the courthouse hallway smiling, looking stunned. He was still wearing a pair of green prison pants, but he was free of handcuffs, as he went into the clerk's office to sign his release.
His bail paid by Rev. William Barry, the 87-year-old retired Jesuit priest who befriended Jones a dozen years ago. Jones calls him "dad." He'll live with Barry in a religious sanctuary west of Boston, calling in weekly to his probation officer.
"He's out of there. He's out. He's free," said Barry, exuberantly.
Bail paid, papers signed, Darrell Jones emerged from the Brockton courthouse, poised and passionate.
In prison, he was an outspoken advocate for inmate rights, reform and real-world rehabilitation services.
"I stayed in prison a long time, not just for something I did not do. But it was hard to get people to hear you, so I'm trying to get everybody here to understand one point: There is somebody else back at that jail that nobody is listening to that's probably innocent, and been trying to fight like I've been trying to fight, and I'm just asking all the reporters and all the people that do this, to sometimes just give them a chance," Jones said to a group of reporters gathered outside the courthouse.
Now outside, Jones promises the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, which spends $56,000 a year per inmate, that it hasn't heard the last of him.
"They didn't give me none of that money. We get one bar of soap a week, and one roll of toilet paper," he said. "How are you supposed to wash your hands and your body with that? Let's investigate that — that's what I'm going to be doing out here."
And on the shortest day of the year, Darrell Jones and the reverend he calls dad drove off, for the first day in 32 years, as a man free to come and go as he pleases.
A status hearing that might determine whether Jones is to stand trial again is set for Valentine's Day.
This segment aired on December 22, 2017.