PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A man who is believed to be the nation’s oldest and longest service juvenile lifer was re-sentenced Wednesday under a recent Supreme Court ruling. The 80-year-old was convicted of first degree murder back in 1953. He’s rejected his new sentence for the second time.
A Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge vacated the mandatory life without parole sentence of Joseph F. Ligon on Wednesday. He originally came up for re-sentencing in November, but joined in an effort by the Defenders Association of Philadelphia and Juvenile Law Center to challenge the constitutionality of the Philadelphia DA’s process for re-sentencing juvenile lifers. They lost the challenge, but are appealing the decision. In the meantime, Ligon was re-sentenced to 35 years to life. He is now immediately eligible for parole.
“He does not want the sentence the judge gave him,” says Bradley Bridge, an attorney with the Defender Association who represents Ligon. “He figures that after 64 years in prison, he’s been in enough time.”
It was February 20, 1953 when then-15-year-old Joseph Ligon went to a dance and drank wine with four other teens. The five then went out to make find some easy money and ended up robbing and stabbing eight people in Philadelphia. Two of the victims, Jackson Hamm and Charles Pitt, died. Ligon, who moved had to the city from Alabama at 13 and was unable to read or write, was identified by his accomplices as the killer.
“I want to get out– no parole and no probation,” Ligon told the judge.
In a statement dictated to and read by his attorney, Ligon expressed remorse for the killings and to the families of the victims. “My father and brother got murdered. I can feel their pain. I would never want to cause anyone that pain. I am sorry.”
Ligon, who works seven days a week as a janitor inside Graterford, maintains while he stabbed someone, he did not kill anyone. So he wants the judge and prosecutors to reduce his sentence to “time served.”
“He’s a good guy and he deserves to come home just like anyone else deserved to come home,” says George Peterson, who did 40-plus years for a crime he committed as a juvenile. He knew Ligon for 20 years inside Graterford. Peterson was released in February and appears to be thriving. He says he wants Ligon to experience freedom, but understands his decision stay inside pending appeal.
“Being in jail so long, I think he got used to that life,” says Peterson. “If had an opportunity to come home—I think he could adjust to this life too.”
Bridge says Ligon has seen men leave on parole and end up back on the inside on a minor violation. Once he’s free– he wants to cut ties to all controls by the criminal justice system.
“If he gets out he never wants to come back,” says Bridge, who plans to file Ligon’s appeal within 30 days.
“It’s scary. I’m free since February 22nd and I’m scared,” says Vincent Boyd, one of the five juvenile lifers who came to court today to support Ligon. “Hopefully some encouragement from us, will help him walk out of those doors,” he says.
Boyd spent 35 years behind bars, but voted in the May 16th primary as a free man.
“It was like a chill running through my body,” says Boyd. “It was priceless yesterday.”
For now, Ligon will remain behind bars.
“Bye!!”– said Ligon, as he waved to the two dozen supporters in the courtroom.
His supporters hope he gets to see freedom. If he does, he’ll get one on one support to help him. He’ll also have a possible job as a janitor on the outside.