February 15, 2021 at 3:30 pm PSTBy decision Bonvillian, Cox Media team National contents DeskPHILADELPHIA — once a 15-year-old Joe Ligon last saw daylight together a free man, Dwight Eisenhower had just wrapped increase his first month as president.

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Ligon, now 83 year old, walked out of Pennsylvania’s State Correctional institution Phoenix top top Thursday after serving almost 68 years in prison. Ligon, of Philadelphia, is the longest-serving youth “lifer” in the joined States.

As that looked the end upon the city native his lawyer’s eighth-floor office the day, he spoke to a reporter.


“I’m spring at all the tall buildings,” Ligon called the Philadelphia Inquirer writer. “This is all new to me. This never existed.”


Joe Ligon is complimentary after 68 yrs in prison. Because 1953. What he’s missed: Elvis. Rosa Parks. Brown v Board. McDonald’s. Federal government highways. Absent & roll. The moon landing. Alaska & Hawaii coming to be states. Tie dye, bellbottoms, mountain wash.& his totality life. Https://t.co/DHXK7Oo0n1

— Laura Nirider (
LauraNirider) February 12, 2021

Raised on a farm yard in Alabama, Ligon had small in the method of officially education, either prior to or after his family members moved phibìc to Philadelphia once he to be 13, the newspaper reported. Enrolled as a student in his new city, the couldn’t save up with his classmates and remained illiterate 2 years later on when he join a team of teens on a night that would forever adjust all their lives.

Ligon was among five teens arrested for first-degree murder, assault and also other associated charges for a string of Feb. 20, 1953, knife strikes that killed two men and injured an additional six. Philadelphia police officials claimed at the time that the boys, all periods 14 to 16, to be affiliated through a recently created gang well-known as the “Head Hunters.”

The teens, that were equipped with switchblades, to buy a couple of bottles of alcohol and, after acquiring drunk, walk on a two-hour “reign that terror” that left Charles Pitts, 60, and also 65-year-old Jackson Hamm dead, the Inquirer reported a few days later.


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Two that the boys visited trial yet the various other four, Ligon included, pleaded guilty the June. The week before Christmas, he was sentenced to 2 mandatory regards to life in jail without parole.

Ligon, who co-defendants called him together the human being who stabbed every eight victims, has admitted to taking part in the assaults that fateful night however told the Inquirer the did no kill anyone.

Federal court records indicate that 1953 attempt transcripts reflect Ligon’s consistent case that while the did stab one victim, the human being he stabbed survived the assault.

The teen went to prison, wherein he eventually learned come read and also write, the newspaper reported. That learned to box and also kept up with existing events top top a tiny television he maintained in his cell.

Read a part of the early story about the teens’ arrests below.


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Wed, Feb 25, 1953 – page 1 · The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

Ligon expected to live his entire adult life behind bars, yet in 2012, the U.S. Can be fried Court ruled in a instance out of his indigenous Alabama that mandatory life imprisonment because that juveniles to be unconstitutional. Still, the Inquirer reported, Pennsylvania court refused at that time to apply the ruling to those inmates currently in prison.

In 2016, a second court ruling forced the state’s hand, an interpretation that Ligon and much more than 500 various other inmates convicted as juveniles had to be resentenced. The complying with year, a judge sentenced him come 35 year to life.

Ligon, climate 80 years old, was automatically eligible because that parole, court records show.

He balked in ~ the thought, however, and despite encourage from his lawyer, his fellow inmates and the judge presiding end his case, he refuse to apply.

“I prefer to it is in free,” Ligon told the newspaper. “With parole, you obtained to watch the parole people every for this reason often. You can’t leaving the city there is no permission native parole. That’s component of liberty for me.”


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Instead, Ligon and also Bradley Bridge, Ligon’s attorney due to the fact that 2006, appealed his brand-new sentence, which would certainly have forced that he continue to be on parole for the rest of his life if and also when he to be released. In 2017, he told the Inquirer that did not desire to be required to continue to be in Pennsylvania.

“My baby brother to be murdered in south Philadelphia. Mine father was murdered in Pennsylvania,” Ligon said three years ago. “My brothers Jesse to be married to a woman, and her brothers was murdered in Pennsylvania and her father to be murdered in Pennsylvania. There has actually just to be so much crime in Pennsylvania within my family.”

He stated he hope to move to brand-new Jersey, where his sister and niece live. ~ above his relax Thursday, however, Ligon had been collection up to continue to be with a family members in Philadelphia who takes in newly-released inmates, the Inquirer reported.


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Bridge argued in the appeal the the preferably penalty consisted of within Ligon’s brand-new sentence continued to be unconstitutional, regardless of the minimum of 35 years. A sentence should be individualized because that each defendant, and it have to be individualized in that is entirety, “not treated together a means to indefinite parole, or worse, as a method of exclusive retribution or judicial policy-making,” that wrote.

“It is unconstitutional because the constitution needs that the whole sentence, both the minimum and maximum terms implemented on a juvenile, be individualized — and also a one-size-fits-all cannot happen constitutional muster,” leg argued.

The Philadelphia ar Attorney’s Office supported Ligon’s writ of habeas corpus. ~ above Nov. 13, U.S. Ar Judge Anita B. Brody granted Ligon’s petition and remanded the case to the reduced court, ordering that the inmate it is in resentenced within 90 job or released from every custody, consisting of parole.

The 90-day deadline happen on Thursday.

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Bridge called the Inquirer that he’s already heard from number of other former inmates who, choose Ligon, great to difficulty their lifetime parole sentences.

“We waste people’s resides by over-incarcerating and we waste money through over-incarcerating. His instance graphically displayed the absurdity that wasting each,” leg told the newspaper Thursday. “Hopefully his release, and the relax of the youth lifers in general, will reason a reevaluation that the means we incarcerate people.”