Nation’s oldest juvenile lifer released after 68 years behind bars

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Nation’s oldest juvenile lifer released after 68 years behind bars

Joe Ligon was just 15 when he joined a pack of drunk teenagers on a robbery and assault spree that left two people dead and six othe

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Joe Ligon was just 15 when he joined a pack of drunk teenagers on a robbery and assault spree that left two people dead and six others stabbed.

Illiterate and poor, Ligon pled guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, though he long claimed he didn’t take part in the murders. He received a life sentence in 1953.

Last week, after 68 years behind bars, the 83-year-old Ligon walked out of a Pennsylvania prison a free man, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

His sentence was reduced to 35 years to life in 2017, after the Supreme Court ruled that automatic life terms for kids are cruel and unusual. But unlike fellow inmates who rushed to seek parole after that ruling, Ligon didn’t want to remain monitored after he got out.

“I like to be free,” he told the paper. “With parole, you got to see the parole people every so often. You can’t leave the city without permission from parole. That’s part of freedom for me.”

Ligon and Bradley Bridge, a lawyer with the Defender Association of Philadelphia who represented Ligon since 2006, fought for his outright release for three more years and won, with a judge ordering his release last November.

Ligon in recent years, left. And a booking photo for Joseph (Joe) Ligon, from 1963, right. He was sentenced as a juvenile and finally released now 68 years later.
Joe Ligon in recent years, left. And a booking photo from 1963, right. He was sentenced as a juvenile and finally released now 68 years later.
Juvenile-In-Justice; PA Dept. of Corrections

After leaving the lockup, Ligon saw a Philadelphia transformed while he was behind bars. “I’m looking at all the tall buildings,” he said. “This is all new to me. This never existed.”

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