COLUMBUS, GA. (WRBL) — Monday, suspended Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones’ legal troubles hit a critical juncture.
He is facing a public corruption trial that could cost him his job if convicted. It’s obvious the stakes for Jones could not be higher.
And to understand where Jones’ legal problems stand, you need to understand how we got here.
Here’s a recap ….
Mark Jones campaigned for DA in the spring of 2020 on change.
But Jones had been in legal trouble before he was sworn in as District Attorney on January 2, 2021.
He had two DUIs, one in 2015 where he pleaded guilty. He got a second one in 2019. Two years later it is still pending in Superior Court.
In May 2020, as he was on his way to ousting three-term incumbent DA Julia Slater, Jones was arrested again.
People working with him to make a campaign rap video did donuts in the Civic Center parking lot. Five of them were charged with criminal property damage.
That case went to trial in September. Three days into the trial, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Monroe declared a mistrial for witness misconduct. The charges against Jones and one other were later dropped. Three co-defendants pleaded guilty prior to the trial.
Multiple jurors made it clear Jones was headed to acquittal.
“First of all, I was really surprised really surprised to see that this trial was about burning out tires,” one juror told News 3. “With all the murders in Columbus, I thought those would take priority over somebody doing burnouts in a parking lot. So, most of the jurors were perplexed by that. We don’t know what the tax dollars were being spent that way.”
So, how is the trial that is scheduled to start Monday different?
First, all of Jones previous legal problems happened before he was elected DA – both DUIs and the criminal property damage case.
The current nine-count indictment alleges criminal misconduct during Jones’ first eight months in office.
One charge claims that Jones asked Columbus police officer Sherman Hayes to lie under oath to upgrade involuntary manslaughter charges to murder against Elijah Farral, accused of shooting Sara Holtrop to death in February.
That conversation came in July when Jones was apparently intoxicated in downtown Columbus in the early morning hours. Hayes was working an off-duty security job.
Another difference between this case and the property damage case. The donut case was investigated by the Columbus Police Department and the GBI came into it only after it became clear Jones was going to be DA.
The current case was not a CPD investigation. It was a GBI investigation and the Hayes video and criminal charges that stemmed from it were rolled into the state investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General John Fowler, who heads the office’s prosecution division. The previous case was farmed out by the AG to a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor in Athens, Brian Patterson.
In the first case, Jones was represented by his friend and advisor Chris Breault. Judge Katherine Lumsden has removed Breault from this case because he is a possible witness.
Jones is currently representing himself in the case that starts tomorrow.
Jones was suspended by Gov. Brian Kemp a month ago. Since that time, News 3 has tried to get Jones to talk about his legal issues. He has declined multiple interview requests.