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February 17, 2021

America's Oldest Juvenile Lifer, Jailed at 15, Finally Freed after 68 Years — inside His Story

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Joseph Ligon, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1953 at 15, has been freed. The longest-serving juvenile inmate in the United States is now 83.

The year 2021 is a different era for Joseph Ligon. After 68 years of living behind bars, the country's longest-serving prisoner has been granted freedom at 83.

Ligon's emancipation was lawyer Bradley Bridge's mission. Bridge, a lawyer from Defender Association of Philadelphia, has represented the newly-released inmate since 2004. 

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TASTING HIS REAL FREEDOM

Ligon received a life sentence as he was one of the drunk teens involved in robbery and assault in which two people died. He admitted he participated in the crime, but he denied killing anyone.

The Alabama-native already had an opportunity to be released in 2017 after he was re-sentenced to 35 years, but he rejected the idea of being put under parole. Ligon said:

"I like to be free. With parole, you got to see the parole people every so often."

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Fellow prisoners tried to convince Ligon, but he refused. Bridge fought three more years at the federal court and argued that Ligon's mandatory maximum sentence of life was unconstitutional.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office agreed to his appeal and ordered in November 2020 the release of Ligon after 90 days. Bridge hoped that Ligon's release would spark change. He said:

"[It] will cause a reevaluation of the way we incarcerate people."

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FREED AFTER WRONGFULLY CONVICTED

Another man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and imprisoned for 37 years was freed last year after a female witness admitted that she fabricated her story. 

Walter Forbes, arrested in 1982, was released on November 20. His release came after star witness Annice Kennebrew admitted in 2017 that she lied during the testimony. 

Kennebrew said she accused Forbes as two men threatened her and her family if she wouldn't implicate him. While Forbes had forgiven the wrongful accusations against him, he said the system was skewed.

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FINALLY EMANCIPATED

In his first steps of freedom, Forbes, a Michigan native, planned to visit his family and make up for the lost time. He also planned to book a trip to see his 94-year-old mother. 

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Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Ronnie Long, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison for rape and burglary, was freed after spending 44 years in jail. The state court admitted it could no longer defend the case.

A federal appeals court reportedly said that 64-year-old Long maintained his innocence and was a victim of "extreme and continuous police misconduct."

In a similar story, Phillip Blackwell, 56, a former "X-Factor" contestant, has been sentenced to life in prison for multiple charges of rape and assault on nine different women over 22 years.

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