America's Oldest Juvenile Lifer Freed After 68 Years

Joe Ligon, 83, was sentenced to life at 15
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 18, 2021 3:40 AM CST
Man Sentenced to Life in 1953 Gets Out of Prison
Joe Ligon, the nation's oldest juvenile lifer, speaks with the media in his lawyers office at the Defender Association of Philadelphia after being released from prison, in Center City, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.   (Jessica Griffin/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

At 83, Joe Ligon is now a free adult for the first time in his life. The Pennsylvania man, America's longest-serving prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment as a juvenile, was released last week after 68 years in prison, CNN reports. He had been behind bars since February 1953, when Dwight Eisenhower had just become president. He was sentenced to life at 15 for his role in a robbery and stabbing spree carried out by a group of drunk teenagers. Two of the eight people stabbed died, but Ligon insists that he didn't kill anybody. Ligon could potentially have received clemency as early as the 1970s, but he never applied to have his sentence commuted, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. After the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life sentences for juveniles were unconstitutional, Ligon was resentenced to 35 years to life in 2017, but refused to apply for parole.

"I like to be free," he said. "With parole, you got to see the parole people every so often." In November, a judge ordered him to be resentenced or released within 90 days. Other former inmates are among those helping Ligon adjust to freedom. "The child that committed those crimes back in 1953 no longer exists. The person that came out of prison in 2021 is 83 years old, has grown, changed, and is no longer a threat," attorney Bradley Bridge tells CNN. "He has amply repaid society for the damage and harm that he did. And now, it's appropriate that he spends the last years of his life in freedom." A day after his release, Ligon said it was "beautiful" to be out in the world again. (More Pennsylvania stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.