Michael, I think some of the people think the same way
Jurors to decide fate of murderer
The prevailing opinion around the Gordon County Courthouse is police should have let murderer Jerry Jones die.
It seems almost everyone in this county of just over 50,000 knows what Jones did. And they know he admitted to it: shooting his ex-girlfriend's parents, strangling her aunt and their 10-month-old daughter and then kidnapping his ex-girlfriend's other three daughters — then ages 10, 4 and 3 — from a mobile home in Ranger.
When police cornered him the next day in Chattanooga, Jones shot himself in the jaw while the girls watched. His face remains disfigured.
This kind of crime is unlike anything experienced before in the county 60 miles northwest of Atlanta, and the details of the Jan. 7, 2004 murders have stuck in residents' memories.
"I don't know how you find a jury. Everybody's made their minds up. They know what they want to do," said Bryan Phipps, who was working at TJ's Office Supply just a few yards from the Gordon County Courthouse steps.
"Most of the people I hear talking about it say they should have let him kill himself," adds Tracy Thompson, another office supply worker. "Most people say it [the trial] is a waste of money."
The attorneys on both sides believe they will find Gordon County jurors.
The defense — not the prosecution — can ask that a trial be moved, but defense attorney Jack Martin said a change in venue was not needed. "We believe we can get a fair trial in Gordon County," Martin said.
Gordon County District Attorney Joe Campbell said he doesn't believe memories of the events are that fresh. "The passage of time has allowed us to be where we are," Campbell said Saturday. "I believe we're close to getting a jury. Maybe by Wednesday or Thursday.
Because Jones already has pleaded guilty to the four murders, the trial will only determine his punishment — which could be death.
2 years ago, Jones pleaded guilty to 16 felonies connected to the murders, but he did so without any agreement that prosecutors would not seek his execution. He now faces a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole, life without parole or death.
By the end of the court session on Saturday, 44 people had been "death penalty qualified," meaning they do not have hard and fast opinions on capital punishment or on this case, so they are eligible to serve.
The goal is a pool of 60 death-qualified prospective jurors from which 12 jurors and four alternates will be chosen. About two dozen prospective jurors may be questioned Monday, and then the 60 in the pool will be questioned again.
Every prospective juror questioned by attorneys said they remembered something about the murders and kidnappings.
The attorneys worked to soften the positions of those who had already formed opinions on the case. Some prospective jurors promised to keep open minds.
Many said they could not.
First, Judge Carey Nelson asked them the same questions: Did they know the victims or the defendants? Were they opposed to the death penalty? Did they believe death was the only punishment option?
Most jurors were measured in their responses, pausing even if the answer was "yes" or "no."
Juror No. 92 said he was solidly opposed to the death penalty. He is Catholic.
He was excused. "The evidence would have to change his beliefs before he votes for the death penalty," the judge said.
Juror No. 94 admitted he wrote in his juror's questionnaire that Jones' crimes were the kind of "cold blooded murders someone should get the death penalty for." He also said he would consider a sentence of life without parole, though he thinks it's "cruel." He remained in the pool.
Juror No. 116 crossed his arms when he was asked about one of his answers on the questionnaire: "Mr. Jones should meet his maker." He also wrote the death penalty was appropriate in the Jones case, based on what he knew from media accounts.
Could his mind be changed? the judge and the attorneys asked several times.
No, he said.
Juror No. 116 was excused.
Juror No. 111 said the "death penalty is the only punishment" for someone who commits a crime like this one, based on media accounts from four years ago. But she also wrote in her questionnaire that "life, living with the guilt, is sometimes more punishment than death."
"So, at this point, you are a blank slate. Would you agree with that," asked Lalaine Briones of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
With raise eyebrows and a bemused look, the juror answered, "yes."
What did she know about the case, defense attorney Boyd Young asked?
"It is a horrendous crime," the juror said. "Anything of this magnitude, in a small town like this, everybody's heard."
Juror No. 111 remained in the pool.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)