WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - Wallace “Brandon” Jones and Leroy Spruill were friends going out for a night at a bar in Washington County. That night ended in a conviction for murder and a sentence of life, plus forty years.
But after more than 25 years behind bars for the murder of Frank Swain -- a crime of which they insist they are innocent -- Jones and Spruill are free from prison.
“My momma died for this. My daddy died for this. My whole family died because they had us sitting in prison up there knowing that we hadn’t done nothing," said Jones.
The two men are still adjusting to modern-day life.
“I’ve mowed a little grass and been to the beach with a friend of mine,” Spruill said. "It’s really good to get back into this, but a lot has changed.”
Alongside the pleasures of freedom comes the trauma of decades in prison.
“I’m going through battles that normal people wouldn’t, like how to use the phone, trying to get some sleep at night," said Jones.
All along, the two men have stayed consistent in their claims of innocence.
“They wanted us to take a guilty plea,” Jones said. “And me and him wouldn’t ever plead guilty,” Spruill added.
It was a decision that led to decades in prison, but one that Jones says had to be done.
“I stuck to my guns, I told the truth," said Jones. "I could have easily lied and said he had done it. They wanted me to do that. I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t be able to sleep with myself, you know?”
The executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, Chris Mumma, explained the plea deal that got the men out of prison.
“In the end, they both said, ‘No, we can’t. We can’t get up and swear that we did something that we didn’t do. That would be perjury.’”
Instead, Jones and Spruill took an Alford plea, which means they are not admitting guilt, but acknowledge the presumed convicting evidence.
Back in society, the fight for total exoneration for Jones and Spruill is not over.
“We want them to have justice in addition to freedom,” Mumma said.
One month after their release, the two men are still battling with the return to normal. They are working and relying on the kindness of their community and families.
The North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence says it will continue to fight for them, as well as the more than five hundred inmates submitting claims for their services each year.
The center became aware of Jones and Spruill’s case in 2001 and began investigating. They urge anyone with information on that December night in 1993 to come forward.
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